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U.S. Army Apologizes to African American Soldiers Wrongly Convicted In 1944 Fort Lawton Riot

In a ceremony held on Saturday, the U.S. Army apologized to 28 African American soldiers who were convicted and dishonorably discharged in a court martial for the Fort Lawton Riots of 1944. Ronald James, Assistant Secretary of the Army, said:

The Army is genuinely sorry, I’m genuinely sorry, that your family members, your husbands and fathers and grandfathers, lost years of their freedom and, I expect, a measure of themselves as a result of these unfair convictions.”

The apology was prompted by Seattle journalist Jack Hamann’s book, On American Soil, which sheds light on the riot sparked by a clash between black soldiers and Italian prisoners at Fort Lawton in Seattle which left POW Guglielmo Olivotto dead.

The book revealed that defense attorneys were only given 10 days to prepare their case and prosecutors withheld evidence that suggested a white soldier may have committed Olivotto’s murder.

The ceremony took place on the Fort Lawton parade ground in Seattle, and was attended by family members who accepted honorable discharge plaques on behalf of the veteran soldiers.

One of the last two living soldiers, Sam Snow, traveled from his home in Florida to Seattle but was hospitalized before he had the chance to attend the ceremony. He died on Sunday after receiving the official pardon.

PHOTO: John Lok/The Seattle Times

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