Academic journal article Military Review

ROI OTTLEY'S WORLD WAR II: The Lost Diary of an African-American Journalist

Academic journal article Military Review

ROI OTTLEY'S WORLD WAR II: The Lost Diary of an African-American Journalist

Article excerpt

ROI OTTLEY'S WORLD WAR II: The Lost Diary of an African-American Journalist, Ed. Mark A. Huddle, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 2011, 199 pages, $29.95.

This book is neither a biography of Roi Ottley nor a compilation of his World War II dispatches as one of the few African-American correspondents to glide seamlessly between the white Allied military power structure and black American troops.

No, this book presents a previously unpublished manuscript-a diary lost for years in the archives- of Ottley's 1944 journey with the Army through war-torn Europe while he was sending dispatches to the U.S. labor newspaper PM and other publications such as Liberty Magazine and the Pittsburgh Courier, whose readership was largely African-American.

The book's editor, Mark A. Huddle, of the history faculty at Georgia College and State University, faithfully transcribed the diary as it was originally typed. Huddle's introduction serves to frame an almost-forgotten career; annotations provide additional context.

Included also are 13 of Ottley's published dispatches (which occasionally demonstrate differences between his private musings and his professional output). Although Ottley never achieved even a fraction of the fame of Ernie Pyle, he may have provided the closest approximation of Pyle for the Negro soldier of World War II. "If you think you know the American experience of World War II, just try looking at the European Theater through the eyes of . . . Roi Ottley," observed James Tobin, the author of Erne Pyle's War.

Ottley does not bemoan the lot of the so-called U.S. Negro troops in World War II-in many ways just the facts prove shocking enough to present- day readers-but he explains the role into which they were relegated, and how they excelled in the face of such treatment.

Raised and schooled among the affluent upper class of prewar Harlem, Ottley had an unusual knack of getting people of all races and stations in life to speak frankly. The memoirs of his boyhood friend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., are replete with descriptions of their amorous adventures with the various chorus girls of Harlem, where laughter was easy and loud.

Fourteen days after the Allied invasion of Normandy, Ottley left England on a ship filled to twice its normal capacity with combatbound soldiers. "First come, first served," he reported in noting the fact that there were no "Jim Crow" rules aboard. Stepping ashore in Normandy, he saw a beachhead on which "nearly two out of every three American soldiers is a Negro." He was later to discover that "Negro battalions moved onto the beachheads alongside the assault troops [because] the task of keeping an avalanche of food, ammunition, and troops moving steadily toward the front is mainly the job of Negro troops. …

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