Confederate Troops in the U.S. Army
In the Wilmington (NC) Star-News, Si Cantwell reports on the "Dixie Division," US Army 31st Infantry, which served in Korea "under the U.S. and the Confederate battle flags." Wilmington native Leo Vereen, who served in the Dixie Division, says that there was no "racial strife among the troops" and has photos of "black soldiers marching … under that Rebel flag."
According to Cantwell, the Confederate flag "has come to symbolize racial division and prejudice." He says that Vereen "regrets that the flag his unit fought under isn’t held in higher esteem today."
Of course, the association between the Confederate flag and racism is primarily the fault of members of the news media, such as Cantwell, who have for years claimed that the War for Southern Independence was actually fought over slavery, and who have ignored such evidence as Vereen’s photos showing that black Americans respected the Confederate flag. In 2003, Cantwell publicly criticized plans to include Confederate flags as part of a display of historic flags at the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington.
ARMY VET HOLDS PROUD MEMORIES OF ‘DIXIE DIVISION’
Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 at 9:27 a.m.
During the Korean War, Leo Vereen served in the 31st Infantry Division, also known as the Dixie Division. His group typically marched under the U.S. and the Confederate battle flags.
That latter flag, the familiar diagonal blue cross on a red field with 13 stars for the slave-holding states of the Confederacy, has come to symbolize racial division and prejudice. And that makes Vereen sad.
"I’ve had buddies to die under that flag," he said.
Vereen, 77, is a Wilmington native who left his job at France Neckware when he was drafted.
He joined the Army in February 1951. He started at Fort Bragg and then was sent to Fort Meade, Md.
From there, he was sent to Fort Jackson, S.C., to serve with the 31st Infantry Division. He stayed with the Dixie Division until spring of 1953, when he was sent home on inactive status. The Army finally discharged him in 1955.
He remembers marching in the 1951 Memorial Day parade in Orangeburg, S.C., and the unit also marched through Indianapolis when it was transferred there in 1952.
In both cases, it marched under both the American and the Confederate battle flags, its band playing Dixie.
There were black soldiers marching in those parades under that Rebel flag. Vereen’s picture appears in a history of the 31st. Several black soldiers also are pictured on that page.
Vereen says that although most of the soldiers in his unit came from the South, he doesn’t remember racial strife among the troops. And he said the black soldiers he served with were just as proud of the division as their white compatriots.
The 31st was formed in 1917 out of National Guard divisions from Alabama, Florida and Georgia. It was known as the Dixie Division almost from the day it was formed, according to Vereen’s division history book.
The division was sent to France during World War I as a replacement, its soldiers sent to other units as needed.
The remnants returned to the U.S. in December 1918 and the division was disbanded in early 1919.
It was reorganized as a National Guard division in 1923, with units from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. It was inducted into federal service in November 1940 and assigned to Camp Blanding, Fla., for training.
That was about the time that two National Guard units active in Wilmington were mobilized, said Wilbur Jones, a local military historian. The 120th Infantry Regiment and the 252nd Coast Artillery Battalion were federalized in 1940, he said.
The Dixie Division served with distinction in the Pacific theater during World War II. The 31st battled Japanese troops along the Drinumor River in Aitape, New Guinea, in July 1944. After that bloody but successful action, it moved from island to island as Allied troops worked their way across the Pacific toward Japan.
It was deactivated in December 1945 and reformed later as National Guard units mainly based in Alabama and Mississippi.
In January 1951, the division was inducted in to the United States Army for the third time. It was based in Fort Jackson, where Vereen entered the picture.
Vereen said his unit spent the cold winter living in tents warmed by potbellied stoves. Training was intense. He says he can still throw a knife through a piece of plywood three-quarters of an inch thick.
They fought war games against members of the 82nd Airborne from Fort Bragg. Vereen says in one encounter they won by surprising the 82nd over chow and "killing" every one of them.
The Dixie Division was never sent to Korea, but many of its well- trained members were ordered into combat as replacements.
Vereen returned to Wilmington and France Neckware in 1953, married in 1956 and joined International Nickel Co., testing materials’ durability in a saltwater environment. The Wrightsville Beach lab and Kure Beach testing yard would become known as the LaQue Center for Corrosion Technology.
Vereen retired in 1986.
But he still takes pride in having served in the Army’s Dixie Division. And he regrets that the flag his unit fought under isn’t held in higher esteem today.