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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Although great accomplishments have been made since the US military was integrated 60 years ago, there still needs to be strides taken in the higher ranks. While blacks make up 17 percent of the total force, they are only 9 percent of all officers, with less than 6 percent of U.S. general officers being black.

“My hope and expectation is that, in the years ahead, more African-Americans will staff the armed forces at the highest levels,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a crowd at a ceremony commemorating the day President Harry Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces.

Best known among the four-stars is retired Gen. Colin Powell, who later became the country’s first black secretary of state.

“They no longer cared whether I was black or white, immigrant kid or not,” Powell told the crowd. “The only thing my commanders ever told me from 1958 for the rest of my career, is ‘Can you perform?’ And that’s all we have ever asked for.”

PHOTO: AP

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