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District Veterans Recall Army's Only All-Black Ranger Unit

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Members of 2nd Ranger Company getting ready for the Memorial Day Parade. 2nd Ranger Company saw combat in the Korean War and the nation's first and only all-black Ranger unit in U.S. army history.
Patrick Madden
Members of 2nd Ranger Company getting ready for the Memorial Day Parade. 2nd Ranger Company saw combat in the Korean War and the nation's first and only all-black Ranger unit in U.S. army history.

The oppressive mid-day sun was not going to stop the men of 2nd Ranger Company as they got the call to board their parade float during the District's Memorial Day Parade Monday.

As members of the country's only all-black Ranger unit in the history of the U.S. Army, the men are used to dealing with adversity.

Paul Lyles, who's now 83, is one of the several District residents who belonged to 2nd Ranger Company in the early 1950's.

"It was just beginning to be desegregated. Because Truman had signed the law," he says. "But we had a lot of generals who were bigots and didn't want any blacks in the unit."

Thrust into action during the Korean War, Lyles says 2nd Ranger Company eventually proved those generals wrong.

"We never lost a hill. Once you got on a hill, you never lost a hill," he says. "Nobody ever beat us. We always held our ground."

While the men in 2nd company were battling racism at home and abroad, women, including D.C. resident Effie Johnson, had to endure sexism as well when they enlisted in the Army during World War II.

"Discrimination didn't bother me. It really didn't," she says. "It was definite discrimination but it didn't bother me."

Johnson became one of the first African-American women to join the Army, and when she got out, she settled in the District during the 1960's. Even at the age of 89, she continues to be active in veterans organizations and hospitals. "I'm glad that I am a veteran," she says. "When I walk through the door, they make me feel welcome, and it means to lot to be welcomed."

Johnson, who was honored by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, says you can't overestimate the importance African-American soldiers such as the 2nd Ranger Company or the Tuskegee Airmen played in civil rights movement.

"It was very, very, very important and the contribution was great,” says Johnson.

The same can be said for Johnson's service.

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