World War I -- Life Histories/Section 001/John Oliver Ranson

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Overview[edit]

John Oliver Ranson was an officer of the accomplished African-American 371st Infantry Regiment before being killed in action in Ardeuil, France during the Champagne Offensive.[1]

Biography[edit]

Personal Life[edit]

John Oliver Ranson was born on November 29, 1893 to a large family in Huntersville, North Carolina.[2] While his siblings went on to become involved in various different paths, such as local politics, agriculture, or college athletics, Ranson decided to enroll in the U.S. Army after his time at the University of North Carolina. During his service overseas, his wife Eugenia was pregnant with their first son, John Oliver Ranson Jr., but unfortunately Ranson Sr. died in war before the birth of his son.[3] Ranson jr went on to follow in his father’s footsteps and serve in the military during World War Two.[4]

Service During the War[edit]

Ranson was commissioned as an officer at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, a federal military instillation used as a wartime induction and processing center during the war.[5] From there he was assigned to the 371st Infantry Regiment, part of the entirely African-American 93rd Infantry Division.[6] This left Ranson and his fellow white officers in charge of African-American soldiers during a period where racial discrimination was the norm. Despite the racial tension, the regiment went on to become a very decorated and successful unit during their campaign in France.[7]

Death[edit]

As part of the great September 1918 offensive in France, Ranson and his men fought against the Germans near the commune of Ardeuil-et-Montfauxelles.[8] During the midst of the battle Ranson’s company found themselves trapped by a German machine-gun nest. With nowhere to go, Ranson volunteered to lead his platoon into the certain danger to create an escape for the rest of his fellow soldiers. Unfortunately this decision would result in Ranson’s death at the age of 25.[9] However, his efforts were successful and Ranson’s regiment was able to continue onward and capture the area.[10] Fellow member of the 371st Infantry Regiment James K. Thompson, later in a letter to John’s widowed wife praised Ranson’s ability as a leader and his valiant effort in his last moments, stating “It is said quite often he was one of our grittiest officers. He died while performing his duty, and nothing better can be said of any killed over here.[11]" For his heroic efforts and for putting his dedication to his duty over his own life, Ranson was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award given for valor during military service.[12]

371st Infantry Regiment[edit]

Unit Success[edit]

The African-American 371st Infantry Regiment, led by Ranson and other white officers, arrived in France on April 23, 1918 where they were soon recognized as a French unit.[13] After three months of trench warfare as part of the 157th “Red Hand” Division, the 371st Infantry Regiment was then used as part of the September 1918 offensive in the Champagne, a French offensive against the Germans that was predicted to be the final offensive.[14] The regiment was described as one of the most forward units of the attacking army in this great battle, capturing many German prisoners and enemy supplies.[15] However their success did not come without a price, and over 1,000 men of the regiment were killed in action.[16] The regiment’s accomplishments did not go unrecognized, as they received the French Legion of Honor, the Croix de Guerre, and a Distinguished Service Medal to go along with several individual awards and a monument dedicated to the regiment near the French town of Ardeuil.[17]

Racial Adversity[edit]

African-American soldiers were no exception to the evident racial discrimination present in American society during the war. According to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the army “assigned the vast majority of soldiers to service units, reflecting a belief that black men were more suited for manual labor than combat duty.[18] Additionally the African-American soldiers also received clothing and shelter that was inferior to what white soldiers received[19] Despite the unjust segregation, many African-Americans saw the war as an opportunity to prove their patriotism and hopefully their equality to their nation.[20] While the prejudice was clearly evident at home in the U.S., many African-American soldiers were exposed to better treatment while stationed in foreign nations.

Race Relations in France[edit]

Around 200,000 African-Americans served overseas in France, however only around 40,000, from the 92nd and 93rd combat divisions, saw battle.[21] Many in the African-American community found it hypocritical for the U.S. to send seemingly 2nd class citizens overseas to help impose the idea of democracy when they themselves had their own issues with inequality at home. Nevertheless, African-American soldiers still showed respectable loyalty and spirit in their service.[22] In France, African-American soldiers fought alongside African soldiers who were serving in the French army.[23] As stated by an officer of the 371st Regiment after the war, “The French people could not grasp the idea of social discrimination on account of color. They said the colored men were soldiers, wearing the American uniform, and fighting in the common cause, and they could not see why they should be discriminated against. They received the men in their churches and homes.[24]

References[edit]

  1. "Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials." Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  2. "Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials." Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  3. "Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials." Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  4. "Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials." Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  5. "Fort Oglethorpe, GA." Fort Oglethorpe, GA. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
  6. "Letters from the Front." Omeka RSS. UNC University Libraries. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  7. "371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored)." 371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored). Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  8. "371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored)." 371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored). Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  9. "Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials." Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  10. "371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored)." 371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored). Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  11. Thompson, James. University of North Carolina Southern Historical Collection, 1918. Print. "Letters from the Front." Omeka RSS. UNC University Libraries. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  12. "The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) - Army." The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) - Army. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
  13. "371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored)." 371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored). Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  14. "371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored)." 371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored). Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  15. "371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored)." 371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored). Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  16. "371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored)." 371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored). Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  17. "371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored)." 371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored). Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  18. "African Americans and World War I." African Americans and World War I. The New York Public Library. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  19. "African Americans and World War I." African Americans and World War I. The New York Public Library. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  20. "African Americans and World War I." African Americans and World War I. The New York Public Library. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  21. "African Americans and World War I." African Americans and World War I. The New York Public Library. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  22. "African Americans and World War I." African Americans and World War I. The New York Public Library. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  23. "African Americans and World War I." African Americans and World War I. The New York Public Library. Web. 25 Feb. 2015.
  24. "371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored)." 371st Infantry Regiment 93rd Division (Colored). Web. 25 Feb. 2015.