Howlin’ Wolf in the US Army

 

Chester Burnett AKA Howlin Wolf, on left, serving in the US Army.

Chester Burnett AKA Howlin Wolf, on left, serving in the US Army.

 

The caption is a little odd, even after realization sinks in: “Second Army Maneuvers in Louisiana, Pvt. Chester Arthur Burnett, Picket line Troop G, 9th Cavalry (colored) from Aberdine, Mississippi, cleaning frog of horse, while Staff Sgt. Columbus Rudisal, Goffney, S.C., looks on. Sgt. Rudisal is directing Troop G, 9th Cavalry, 4th Brigade. Sept. 12, 1941.” Although Wolf said that he acquired the nickname as a child, he was just Pvt. Burnett during his brief service in the US Army. The “frog” is the inner portion of a horse’s hoof.

The image was found thanks to HowlinWolf.com, reposted from a page called “WWII: African-Americans on Maneuver” on US Army Center of Military History. It’s an official government site and in my opinion, it needs a little work, a little expansion on the information side. Apparently the page has been up since 2001 and the webmaster there has been unaware of the later fame and significance of Chester Burnett, but if you’d like to send them a message, contact them here. The US Military was still segregated during World War II and although the army was one of the first US institutions to integrate, African-Americans were subjected to severe discrimination and were often assigned to maintenance battalions and other lower level duties–this, despite the bravery and distinction demonstrated by so many African-American citizens dating back to US colonial times. Here are some other images from CMH online, with the full-length captions posted there.

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Jazz musicians from prominent bands serving in the 41st Engineers Regiment.

The full caption online: “First Army Maneuvers in the Carolinas: These nine musicians, and formerly members of leading colored dance orchestras, are now members of the 41st Engineers Regiment, Fort Bragg, N.C., and play with the Regiment dance orchestra. They are L to R: Pfc. Louis W. Carrington, Richmond, Va; Sgt. Rufus Wagner, Atlantic City, N.J., formerly with Blanch Calloway’s orchestra; Pvt. Elmon Simon, Norfolk, Va., formerly with Tiny Bradshaw; Pvt. Teddy Wood, Richmond, Va., formerly with the Roseland Ballroom orchestra of New York City; Cpl. Milton S. Bell, Richmond, Va., formerly with Johnson’s Happy Pals; Sgt. Wilburn Pogue, Washington, D.C., formerly with Duke Ellington and Ethel Waters; and Sgt. Frank Wess, formerly with Blanch Calloway; and in the foreground are (left) Charles L. Anderson of Virginia, formerly with Don Albert; and Pfc. George Wolfe, Atlantic City, N.J., formerly with Ethel Waters. South Carolina. October 20, 1941.

From US Army Center of Military History

Thanksgiving in the Carolinas with VI Army in the field, 1941.

 

The full caption: “First Army Maneuvers in the Carolinas. These Negro children are eating Thanksgiving dinner with VI Army Corps in the field. November 23, 1941.”

Jesse Sublett, Austin author, musician

African American troops loading a pontoon bridge.

Full Caption: “Second Army Maneuvers in Arkansas, 77th Engineers (colored) moving 10 ton pontoon from truck prior to building pontoon bridge across the Red River. August 26, 1941.”

 

Full caption for the first image above left suggests that it was written for an army publication during the war: “First Army Maneuvers in the Carolinas. We see here jitterbugs ‘cutting the rug’ at the 24th Infantry dance given in Rock Hill, South Carolina for Negro Soldiers. The dancers are Pvt. Jerome Jackson of Philadelphia, Pa., and Annie Bess Young of Rock Hill. November 14, 1941.”

Full caption for middle photo: “First Army Maneuvers in the Carolinas: Staff Sgt. Ed Nikens passes the O.K. on a delicious pot of steaming hot beef stew, as hungry soldiers of the 24th Infantry wait outside. Kitchen personnel are (L to R): Pvt. Jessie Rush, of Columbus, Missouri; Cpl. Harold Bussey, of Atlanta, Ga.; Staff Sgt. Ed Nikens, of Kilmock, Va.; and Pvt. Homer Jones, of Opelika, Alabama. Nov. 11, 1941.”

Third photo caption reads: “Second Army Maneuvers in Louisiana: Sgt. Andrew Favors, Hqs. Troop, 9th Cavalry, with 45 Sub. Thompson machine gun. Aug. 30, 1941.”

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African American artillery troops

Full caption for above image: “Third Army Louisiana Maneuvers, Camp Polk, La., awaiting the firing order from the Army’s latest Handi-talkie radio, this anti-tank crew stands ready to roll. L to R: Pfc. Theodore Estorge, Houstonville, N.Y.; Pfc. Phillip Glover, Gurdon, Arkansas; Cpl. Lester Levine, Brooklyn, N.Y. 4/18/43. 93rd Division Hq. Co.”

Jesse Sublett, Austin novelist and nonfiction author

Pvt. Clarence Jones, in a slit trench. African Americans served with bravery and distinction despite prejudicial treatment in WW2.

Full caption for above: “Third Army Louisiana Maneuvers, Camp Polk, Louisiana, Pvt. Clarence Jones, North Birmingham, Alabama, in slit trench with carbine, ‘On the Alert.’ 4/17/43. 594th Field Artillery Battalion A.”

On HowlinWolf.com, authors Mark Hoffman & Jim Segrest also provide the following insights to these photos and Wolf’s place in history–as a 31-year-old private with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers.

Amazingly, this is one of the earliest photos of Howlin’ Wolf ever taken, long before he was world-famous as a blues singer. In the photo, Wolf is cleaning the frog of a horse’s hoof. That’s the V-shaped, relatively soft part of a horse’s hoof, which can make the horse lame if a pebble, stick, or burr gets embedded in it.

The photo was taken while Wolf was a cavalryman during the Louisiana Maneuvers, a series of mock battles instigated by general George Marshall and led by generals George Patton, Omar Bradley, Mark Clark, and soon-to-be general Dwight Eisenhower. Patton perfected his tank maneuvers for World War II here, saying, “If you could take these tanks through Louisiana, you could take them through hell.”

The maneuvers were called the “Big One” because they involved more than 350,000 men in the largest military exercises ever held in the U.S. It was the last time the U.S. military took the cavalry seriously as a weapon of war.

Not only that, but the 9th Cavalry Regiment with which Wolf served was one of the original “Buffalo Soldier” units that was famous in the 19th century. So Wolf was one of the last U.S. cavalrymen and one of the last Buffalo Soldiers, all at the age of 31. 

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