Roxbury pays tribute to Korean War veteran Cpl. Ralph Browne Jr.
Col. Edward O. Gourdin sits front and center in this photograph of “Deuce.” (Banner archives)
|Korean War veteran and activist Ralph Browne Jr. died last year and was honored last Saturday for his military service and community activism. (Tony Irving photo)|
Of all of Boston’s most notable high achievers, none stand taller than Edward O. Gourdin.
Gourdin graduated from Harvard College in 1921 with a Bachelor of Arts and from Harvard School of Law in 1924 with the Bachelor of Laws. In 1925, he was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar Association, and in 1929, he was admitted to the federal bar. Nearly 30 years later, in 1958, Gourdin would become the first African American to be seated on the Massachusetts Superior Court.
An exceptional athlete, he was the first man in history to long jump 25 feet and the first African American to win a silver medal in the Olympics in the long jump event.
But what makes Gourdin even more remarkable was his military service. As a sophomore at Harvard, he joined the Student Training Corps, and in 1925 enlisted in the National Guard. In 1941, he entered World War II, where he was assigned to the 372nd Infantry Regiment, a segregated unit, and served as its commanding officer both in the United States and abroad.
He rose to the rank of colonel, serving until 1947. After his discharge, Gourdin rejoined the National Guard and served in it until 1959. He retired having earned the rank of brigadier general, the first African American to earn this rank in Massachusetts.
It is of little surprise then that a tribute to honor the service of Korean War veterans and specifically the 272nd Field Artillery Battalion, Massachusetts National Guards (1947-1955) was held last Saturday at a park named after Gourdin in Dudley Square.
The ceremony was part of the Annual African American Military Day heritage program and featured a celebration of the life of Corporal Ralph Browne Jr., a member of the 272nd who died last year from heart failure at the age of 81.
A native of Massachusetts, Browne served as the president of the Dorchester Allied Neighborhood Association, the Meetinghouse Hill Civic Association, and as commander of Mattapan’s William E. Carter American Legion Post. Browne also served as chief marshal of the Dorchester Day Parade and was a board member of the Dudley Square Main Streets.
For most of his time at the Boston branch of the NAACP, Browne served as Chairman of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee.
Joyce Stanley, the executive director of the Dudley Square Main Streets was a longtime friend of Browne’s. “He was like the Energizer Bunny,” she said in a published report at the time. “He was with so many different organizations. He’s done so many things and was such a hard worker. He always had good advice; he was never there to hear himself talk.”
Fondly called “the Deuce,” the 272nd draws its roots from the 372nd Infantry, the racially segregated U.S. Army regiment that served as part of the French 157th Division (Red Hand Division) during World War I. It was made up of National Guard units from Washington, D.C., Ohio, Maryland, Tennessee, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Within the Massachusetts unit, Company L, 6th Infantry was the sole black company in an otherwise all-white regiment, a number of whom were combat veterans of the Spanish-American War.
Before he died last year, Cpl. Browne told the Banner that the 272nd was the last all-black military National Guard unit to be integrated. Despite the politics of the time, Browne said the “Deuce” was sent to West Germany and trained troops for the Korean War.
Said Browne: “Many Boston citizens will never forget that historic moment in September 1950 when the 272nd proudly paraded down Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street on their way to North Station for their trip to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin” to join the 1st and 5th Armies at Camp McCoy and later head to Germany.