'Long-overdue vindication' comes for 28 black soldiers cleared in a 1944 lynching





It was a crime so improbable that many had trouble believing it could have happened at all: Three black soldiers stood accused of lynching an Italian prisoner of war, found dangling from a wire on an obstacle training course at Ft. Lawton in the middle of World War II.

The subsequent trial of the three men, along with 40 other black enlistees charged with rioting, became the largest and longest Army court-martial of the war, and the only recorded instance in U.S. history in which black men stood trial for a mob lynching.

By the time it was over, 28 men had been convicted on rioting charges and two of them were also found guilty of manslaughter in connection with the 1944 hanging.

Despite their protests of innocence -- and the government's own secret investigation showing the prosecution's case was poisonously flawed -- the men were sentenced to hard labor and forfeiture of military pay and benefits, and were given dishonorable discharges.

Twenty-six of the men went to their graves with the stain of wartime dishonor still on their records. It wasn't until Saturday, in a low-key ceremony on a wide lawn at the Army base in Seattle, that history switched gears. A senior Army official handed out certificates setting aside the convictions and converting the discharges to honorable status, in recognition -- 64 years after the fact -- that prosecutors' "egregious error" had resulted in a trial that was "fundamentally unfair."

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