Back in July 2013 we published an article (here) about a documentary film THE GOOD GIANTS which follow Ivan J. Houston, an 88-year-old retired businessman and author, residing in Los Angeles, California and who is also a decorated former Buffalo Soldier who fought in the segregated U.S. Army 92nd Infantry Division in Italy.
In 1944-45, Ivan and his fellow Buffalo Soldiers liberated impoverished Tuscan villages while fighting under segregated, discriminatory conditions in the United States Army.
A segregated army fighting multiple enemies – including a commander who appears to have deliberately sent the under-trained, outnumbered 366th Infantry Regiment into harm’s way, resulting in high casualties. Even worse, these casualties have never been reported.
Not only were Ivan and his fellow Buffalo Soldiers attacked by the Germans and the Italian fascists, but they were also undermined by their own Army’s institutionalized racism.
“That was just the way the Army was,” says Ivan.
With more detailed research into key battles of the war to liberate Italy, we began to suspect that a significant recording problem had taken place. What was the fate of many hundreds of Buffalo Soldiers.
It is known that the unit was untrained for combat, and compelling evidence indicates these soldiers were severely outnumbered and many were wounded and killed by German Army forces.
Filming of “Giganti Buoni” took place in late 2013 in this area with a film troupe from the Pacific Film Foundation from the USA
The film reflected on Ivan’s emotional journey on his return to Tuscany, visiting former battle sites and meeting people he helped liberate. Ivan moved physically and spiritually in search of his own peace and justice for the over 1,000 Buffalo Soldiers who suffered casualties that were never reported or honoured.
As you can hear in the interview with Ivan recorded in between filming at the Villa Orsini just outside Lucca which he and his company took back from the German forces all those years ago , the warm welcome Ivan received in Barga when he visited last year (article here) was well beyond his expectations and was one of the deciding factors in returning this year with the film crew.
“Black Warriors: The Buffalo Soldiers of World War II. Memories of the Only Negro Infantry Division to Fight in World War II” Ivan J. Houston.
(…) On september 4 the Battalion command post moved to Villa Rossa on a hill above Rigoli, and Regiment ordered that we capture the fifteenth-century Villa Orsini and the village of Cerasomma, just east of the Serchio River north of Ripafratta. Reedy’s Company K would continue on the left, and Jarman’s I on the right, with Brown’s Company L furnishing flank and rear protection. Our troops were now from one to four kilometers beyond the 100th Battalion on our left.(…)
By 2000 hours, Company I was on to its objective, but Company K was forced to await nightfall before moving into Villa Orsini because of the deadly artillery barrages. Colonel Daugette and Captain Roane were pinned down for six hours during which Jerry threw everything from 20mm to 210 mm shells. Not only Ripafratta but the entire battalion sector felt the weight of this onslaught.(…)
Early on the morning of September 10, the 3rd Battalion, less Company K, which was establishing a strong point at Villa Orsini, moved to the western gate of Lucca and reverted to regimental reserve. (…)
Along with Ivan at the villa were a team of Italian Reenactors (from Associazione Linea Gotica della Lucchesia) including one small group who were dressed as German soldiers.
One of the more poignant moments during the days filming was when Ivan met up with this group and even held of of their rifles in his hands remarking on the difference between the arms that the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division carried – semi automatic and the fully automatic german arms they faced.
A student at UC Berkeley in 1943 when he enlisted at 17, Houston was one of the youngest members of the 3rd Battalion’s Combat Team 370 that entered combat in August 1944. In “Black Warriors,” Houston chronicles the odyssey of the 370th as an untested black infantry regiment in the segregated U. S. Army.
Their assignment, after landing in Naples, was to cross the Arno River and break through the German’s deeply fortified “Gothic Line,” which stretched 170 miles across Italy’s spine.
On September 1, 1944, Combat Team 370 crossed the Arno and three days later they occupied Villa Orsini on their march north. Combat Team 370 was joined by the rest of the 92nd Division in November 1944 and continued to fight the Nazis and Italian Fascists until the Germans surrendered in May 1945.
Houston would go on to receive a Combat Infantryman Badge and a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat. Later he was awarded the Bronze Star.
A Los Angeles native, Houston completed his education at UC Berkeley after the war and later joined the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, which had been co-founded by his father in 1925. He served as chairman and CEO of Golden State from 1970 to 1990. Houston also served as chairman of the Los Angeles Urban League, president of the L.A. Human Relations Commission, and served on numerous corporate boards including Broadway Federal Bank, Pacific Telesis (now AT&T), Metromedia, and Kaiser Aluminum. Pope John Paul II named Houston a Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great.
Widowed after 64 years of marriage, Houston resides in the Ladera Heights section of Los Angeles.
Black Warriors is available for purchase online at www.Amazon.com , www.BarnesandNoble.com and www.Blackwarriorsbook.com. Additional information about Mr. Houston and the book is also provided on www.Blackwarriorsbook.com .
painter and photographer - started barganews.com, the first on line news site in Tuscany, Italy back in 1996