PVT GEORGE WATSON
2nd Battalion, 29th Quartermaster Regiment L&B
Aboard SS Jacob, near New Guinea
8 March 1943
Although with a Bachelor’s degree from Colorado A&M (now CSU), Pvt Watson was better educated than the majority of the soldiers whose drawers he washed every day. Yet he was not considered good enough to serve in combat with white soldiers and was assigned as a Laundry Specialist aboard The Army transport Jacob.
Jacob was hauling a hold full of American Soldiers when it was attacked by 9 high altitude bombers. Three direct hits caused a large fire that couldn’t be quenched, and the to abandon ship given. Watson, a strong swimmer, remained in the water. Instead of trying to save himself, the Laundry Specialist assisted soldiers who could not swim into life rafts.
Watson eventually wore out, but, only after saving the lives of several of his non-swimming comrades. Weakened by his exertions, he was dragged down by the suction of the sinking ship and drowned.
The minesweeper HMAS Bendigo. Jacob’s escort vessel, rescued 158 men. Watson’s body was never recovered. On June 13, 1943, he was awarded posthumously the Army’s second-highest medal for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for extraordinary heroism. He was the first Black American serviceman in World War II to receive this decoration.
In the early 1990s, it was determined that Black soldiers had been denied consideration for the Medal of Honor (MOH) in World War II because of their race. The DSC awarded to PVT George Watson, was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, the medal he would have been awarded if her were not black.
On January 13, 1997, President Clinton presented the MOH to the seven Black Americans; Pvt. Watson and five others were posthumously presented the MOH. Sergeant Major of the Army, Gene C. McKinney, accepted the MOH on behalf of Pvt. Watson during the ceremony. Watson’s Medal of Honor is displayed in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia. Vernon Baker was the only living recipient of the medal at the time.
General Order: Citation: For extraordinary heroism in action on 8 March 1943. Private Watson was on board a ship which was attacked and hit by enemy bombers. When the ship was abandoned, Private Watson, instead of seeking to save himself, remained in the water assisting several soldiers who could not swim to reach the safety of the raft. This heroic action, which subsequently cost him his life, resulted in the saving of several of his comrades. Weakened by his