A 93-year-old Buffalo man who served in the Pacific Theater of World War II is owed at least three decorations, says Senator Charles Schumer. On Tuesday, the federal lawmaker stood with George Watts and his family at the Veterans One-Stop Center of Western New York, urging the United States Army to deliver those awards to a man that, according to the senator, was already subject to segregation as an African-American soldier.
Watts served with the Army in the Philippines from 1943 to 1946. According to Schumer, he is owed the following decorations: the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Philippine Liberation Medal.
When asked why, 70 years later, he remains without those awards, Watts said there could be many reasons including lost paperwork, failure to update his address and other errors.
"I'm not blaming anybody," Watts said. "Just that I never knew how to get them. I thought eventually somebody would decide that the man didn't have his medals and would get 'em for me."
Schumer suggested it was a final injustice against a veteran who was already subject to unfair treatment amidst segregation by the military.
"Watts' sacrifice to his country will not be truly and fully recognized until these long-delayed medals are awarded," the senator said. "Any further denial of rightfully deserved medals would undermine this Buffalonian's valor and sacrifice to his country."
While Watts did not directly blame his lack of medal on racism, he acknowledged the living conditions under which his unit lived, even stateside, were below the level of other soldiers. He recalled staying in accommodations at Fort Niagara as his unit awaited their call to action overseas. Not far from their living quarters were German prisoners of war who, both Watts and Schumer said, actually lived in better conditions.
"The German prisoners of war lived in brick steam-heated barracks, because they were able to guard them there," Watts said. "The black soldiers, my platoon for instance, lived in two long tar paper shacks down by the waterfront."
He went on to describe how those quarters were heated by two stoves, one at each end, that did not necessarily provide adequate heat for all. You either "froze to death or sweated to death," as Watts recalled.
Very few surviving World War II veterans are left. According to a statistic introduced at the recent Pearl Harbor Day memorial ceremony at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, only four percent of Americans who served in that war still survive to this day.
Schumer says many of them are still owed medals.