476th Amphibian Truck Company
DUKW amphibious truck
Prepared by Kathleen Fargey, AAMH-FPO/14 February 2014
The 476th Amphibian Truck Company activated on 15 October 1943 at the Army Service Forces Unit Training Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, as an African-American unit with white officers. In early February 1944, the unit moved to Camp Gordon Johnston, Florida. One of the unit's veterans, Frederick Douglass Gray, who joined the unit in Florida, shared his memories in the American Veterans Center's World War II Chronicles, recalling the segregation which kept black Soldiers out of recreational and commercial facilities both on and off post and the tensions and fighting between white and black Soldiers. In August 1944, the company traveled to Seattle, Washington, and boarded the troopship George Flavel to sail to Hawaii, arriving on 27 August 1944, where it trained with the Fourth Marine Division. The unit subsequently traveled to a series of Pacific islands, arriving at Iwo Jima on D-Day, 19 February 1945, at which time it had a total strength of five officers and 159 enlisted men. The 476th Amphibian Truck Company was one of a number of African-American U.S. Army units (also including the 442d and 592d Port Companies and the 471st and 473d Amphibian Truck Companies) attached to the Fifth Amphibious Corps of the U.S. Marines. The 476th was more specifically attached to the artillery forces of the 4th Marine Division for the assault landings on the island of Iwo Jima.
During the Iwo Jima landings, the 476th Amphibian Truck Company operated special land-water vehicles known as DUKWs ("Ducks"), specially modified to transport heavy 105mm howitzers to shore. The DUKWs of 476th Amphibian Truck Company simultaneously landed the troops of 2d Battalion, 14th Marines, on the shores of Iwo Jima. Under heavy fire from the Japanese, the DUKW operators made several trips between ship and shore carrying howitzers, ammunition, and men, despite several difficulties, including getting bogged down on the beaches, broken equipment, casualties, and then the darkness of nightfall and wrecked vehicles blocking their path. According to A Brief History of the 14th Marines, "With great effort the DUKWs clawed their way to the firing positions. The determination of their gun crews and the dauntless courage of the black DUKW drivers were the keys to unloading the 105mm howitzers and getting them into action. The howitzers of the 2d Battalion fired their first rounds at about 2130 that evening." The volatile sea was also a problem. The landing of 3d Battalion, 14th Marines, was postponed due to ignition problems with the DUKWS of 2d Platoon, 476th Amphibian Truck Company. One of the DUKWS sank with the howitzer it carried after losing power while attempting to drive back aboard ship via a ramp.
Five Silver Stars and 17 Bronze Stars were awarded to members of the 476th Amphibian Truck Company for their actions during the Iwo Jima landings. Two unit members were killed and nine were injured, including six who were seriously wounded, and 29 of the unit's 48 DUKWs were lost "to enemy fire and rough surf." One of those who died was PFC Willie L. Page, who was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for his actions on the date of 20 February 1945: "Upon arriving at the line of departure under heavy enemy fire, Private First Class Page's amphibian truck was rammed by an LCVP [Landing Craft Vehicle, Personal]. Private First Class Page chose to stay at the controls to save his crew and equipment. He skillfully maneuvered the truck closer to a landing craft to enable his crew to swim to safety, then alone at the controls he attempted to the last to save the truck and its valuable combat cargo. When last seen before a large wave sunk the truck, Private First Class Page was still at the controls. His courage, determination and devotion to duty were an inspiration to the men with whom he served."
In General Orders No. 73 of 2 November 1948, the Department of the Army officially acknowledged the award by the Secretary of the Navy of a Navy Unit Commendation (NUC) to twenty-one support units involved in the Iwo Jima landings, including the 476th and the four other African-American companies attached to the Fifth Amphibious Corps. The citation reads as follows:
For outstanding heroism in support of Military Operations during the seizure of enemy
Japanese-held Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, February 19 to 28, 1945. Landing against
resistance which rapidly increased in fury as the Japanese pounded the beaches with
artillery, rocket and mortar fire, the Support Units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps
surmounted the obstacles of chaotic disorganization, loss of equipment, supplies and key
personnel to develop and maintain a continuous link between thousands of assault troops
and supply ships. Resourceful and daring whether fighting in the front line of combat, or
serving in rear areas or on the wreck-obstructed beaches, they were responsible for the
administration of operations and personnel; they rendered effective fire support where
Japanese pressure was greatest; they constructed roads and facilities and maintained
communications under the most difficult and discouraging conditions of weather and
rugged terrain; they salvaged vital supplies from craft lying crippled in the surf or
broached on the beaches; and they ministered to the wounded under fire and provided
prompt evacuation to hospital ships. By their individual initiative and heroism and their
ingenious teamwork, they provided the unfailing support vital to the conquest of Iwo
Jima, a powerful defense of the Japanese Empire.
The 476th Amphibian Truck Company also earned official campaign participation credit for the Air Offensive, Japan campaign, covering their participation in the Iwo Jima invasion.
On 16 March 1945, the company was attached to the 43d Transportation Corps Amphibian Truck Battalion for garrison duties and 24-hour operation of an amphibian truck. On 25 May 1946, the 476th Amphibian Truck Company was inactivated on Iwo Jima.
Unfortunately, many of the unit members were not aware that their unit had been awarded an NUC. On 24 April 1979, following unit veteran Frederick Douglass Gray's lobbying of the White House for recognition of the unit's World War II service, 25 of the unit's surviving veterans and family members of deceased veterans gathered at the Iwo Jima Memorial (the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial) in Arlington, Virginia, for the presentation of Army Certificates of Achievement by Brigadier General Arthur Holmes on behalf of the Secretary of the Army. The event was covered in the press, and a group photo of the 476th Amphibian Truck Company's veterans at the foot of the Iwo Jima Memorial was published in the local military newspaper the Pentagram News on 26 April 1979. The Secretary of the Army also issued letters recognizing the unit's service and the previous award of the Navy Unit Commendation. In a Washington Post account of the event, several of the unit's veterans shared their memories, recalling heavy enemy fire and bodies stacked on the beaches of Iwo Jima. First Sergeant Arthur Peterson, who was awarded the Bronze Star, recalled standing atop a landing craft and directing DUKW drivers appropriate locations along the beachhead. Samuel Peterson witnessed the famous raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima by Marines which is depicted by the Iwo Jima Memorial. Former unit commander Captain Jules Blaustein recalled that the Marines were impressed by the courage of the black troops. The members of the 476th Amphibian Truck Company and other African-American U.S. Army transportation units were instrumental in achieving one of the hardest-won victories of World War II.
Additional Resources and Information
The United States Army in World War II:
United States Navy History and Heritage Command:
Adjutant General's Office unit data card of the 476th Amphibian Truck Company; Stephen Mosley, "Uncommon Valor: An African American's Service on Iwo Jima," World War II Chronicles (American Veteran Center), Issue XXVIII, (Spring 2005).
Clarence E. Willie, African-American Voices From Iwo Jima: Personal Accounts of the Battle, (Jefferson, North Carolina: 2010), pp. 226-227 (Appendix V).
Ulysses Lee, United States Army in World War II, Special Studies: The Employment of Negro Troops (Washington, DC: Center of Military History), 1966), p. 637.
Carl W. Proehl, editor, The Fourth Marine Division in World War II, Nashville, Tennessee: The Battery Press, 1988), p. 233.
LTC Ronald J. Brown, A Brief History of the 14th Marines (Washington, DC: History and Museums Division, U.S. Marine Corps, 1990), pp. 49-50 (quote from page 50).
Elliott Vanvelter Converse III, Daniel K. Gibran, John A. Cash, Robert K. Griffith, Jr., and Richard K. Kohn, The Exclusion of Black Soldiers from the Medal of Honor in World War II: The Study Commissioned by the United States Army to Investigate Racial Bias in the Awarding of the Nation's Highest Military Decoration (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1997), p. 164 (Endnote 59).
MilitaryTimes.com website. (http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=34306)
War Department General Orders No. 12 of 1 February 1946 as amended by Department of the Army General Orders No. 29 of 21 April 1948.
Thomas Morgan, "Segregated Sands of Iwo Jima: All-Black Army Unit Finally Wins Recognition," The Washington Post, 25 April 1979; "Iwo Jima Truck Unit Citation Is Its Second," The Washington Post, 26 April 1979; and "476th award" (photo caption), Pentagram News, 26 April 1979, p. 3.