CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Alden H. Small Sr.
World War II Oral History Interview
US Army, 92nd Infantry Division
Date: August 22, 2017
Interviewer: Carol Fowler, William Elwell
Summarizer: Karville E. Biggs Jr.
MSG(Ret) Alden H. Small, Sr. was born in New York City, New York, in November 1919. When he was drafted into the United States Army on November 4, 1942, he was a high school graduate with a year of college working at a large company in the city. Asked by the oral history interviewer how his parents felt about him being drafted, Small replied: “They felt not that great. They were happy in one sense that I got to serve my country; but, on the other side, I was one of the breadwinners for the family at the time.” When he left for the service, his father and three-year-old younger brother were the only other family males remaining home.
Small was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training, where he adjusted well to army life, as he had been a Boy Scout and was used to outdoor living. After completing basic training, he was transferred to Fort McClellan, Alabama, traveling there by train from Penn Station in New York City. While at the station, Small met some other young men from his neighborhood who were heading to the same destination. It was an overnight ride; they arrived at Fort McClellan the following morning.
Small recalled that Fort McClellan was where several segregated African-American support units were training, including Quartermaster and Medical detachments. After a few weeks there, he was promoted to Private First Class. His first job at McClellan was organizing and directing laundry trucks to the post laundry facility and back to the relevant units, a job he held until March 1943, when all the African-American support units at Fort McClellan were assigned to the African-American 92nd Division being organized at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. While training with the division at Fort Huachuca, Small was promoted and appointed as medical supply sergeant for the division.
In the summer of 1944, the 92nd, known as the “Buffalo Division” was ordered overseas to Italy to participate in the war in Europe. The division traveled from Arizona to Virginia and remained there for a month to gather supplies for the overseas mission. The 92nd left the United States as part of a fifty-ship convoy and, thirty days later, landed in the port of Livorno, Italy.
On arrival in Livorno, Small recalled that he saw balloons floating high in the air. They were tethered to chains anchored on the ground. He was told they were intended to keep German fighter planes from strafing the ships in the port. Small and his detachment traveled to Via Reggio, where they established a headquarters. His job was to fill orders for medical supplies requested by other units. He also provided medical supplies to Italian partisans, who were guerrillas fighting the Germans. Small remembered that they appeared to be mostly young boys.
At the end of the war in Europe in 1945, the 92nd left Italy from Livorno and sailed back to the United States, landing in New York City. After returning home, Small reenlisted in the army and was shipped back to Europe, where he was stationed in Germany with the 317th Ambulance Company. The company was assigned to assist German refugees displaced by the war and bring them to refugee camps. He recalled that some of the displaced persons were “not in very good shape.” They would later be resettled to start their lives over again.
Once most of the refugees had been relocated, Small was assigned to a teaching position in the “On-Duty Education Program.” His job was to instruct soldiers from the rural segregated South who lacked a formal education and bring them up to a level that met military standards. The students were in the program for three months; and, if they didn’t meet the desired level at the end of that time, they were sent back home for discharge. Small recalled that he helped many soldiers reach the desired level of education during his time in Germany. During this time, he witnessed and was part of the desegregation of the United States Army.
After returning from duty in Germany, Small, now a master sergeant, was stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia, as a math instructor for cooks and bakers, to help them judge the ingredients for their recipes. Due to the racial segregation and discrimination in the South at the time, Virginia was not an ideal place for African-American soldiers, and so he was transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey. While at Fort Dix, Small was engaged in teaching several subjects, including administrative duties and radar system technology to foreign military officers, as well as he learned how to be a radio technician.
Alden Small retired from the army in 1965 with the rank of Master Sergeant. He had furthered his education and earned several degrees. Following his service, Small opened a television business for a short time, before he embarked on a civilian career with the army as a technical writer. He has been the subject of several newspaper articles about his two careers. Small also received the “Crystal Eagle” award, marking 40 years of civilian service to the United States Army.
After his service, Small returned to Italy with a veterans’ group, and again with a friend from his army days, to visit the places that they had been during the war, and to pay respect to the men who had fought and died over there.
Later in life, Small, who married and had five children, was vice president of a senior housing board in Red Bank, New Jersey, a scout master and commander of his VFW post. He also was a founding member of the Mentors, a local organization that is part of Blacks in Government (BIG). Alden Small died on January 23, 2019.