Brigadier General George Macon Shuffer, Jr.
By Andrew E. Woods
Brigadier General George M. Shuffer, Jr., was a heroic soldier who served in three wars. Enlisting as a private, he eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general. During his distinguished career, he overcame segregation and racial discrimination and helped the Army, and America, progress from the Jim Crow years of the 1930s to the far freer society we know today.
Shuffer was born in Palestine, Texas, in 1923. He graduated from Lincoln High School as valedictorian in 1940 and received an academic scholarship to college, but could not afford room and board. Against his father’s wishes, Shuffer ran off in June 1940 to join his brothers in the 25th Infantry Regiment at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Only this regiment, along with the 24th Infantry, 9th Cavalry, and 10th Cavalry, offered African Americans the opportunity to serve in the Regular Army.
Because recruiting quotas were filled, Shuffer was “attached” to Company L without pay. He cleaned the barracks for room and board. At the post chapel, he first met Cecilia Rose Mann, his future wife. In August 1940, the company needed men and he enlisted. Shuffer was promoted to private first class on 17 September. He was soon made acting corporal and began training new recruits.
Corporal Shuffer enjoyed life at Fort Huachuca, but when he was transferred to Camp Wolters, Texas, he was assigned to a segregated training battalion. While posted at Camp Wolters, Shuffer led the first black military police (MP) patrol into the nearby town Mineral Wells. White MPs refused to accept the authority of black MPs. As a result, his patrol was arrested and hauled off to headquarters. The duty officer released the black MPs, but no one apologized for the humiliating incident.
When the United States entered World War II, Shuffer was promoted to sergeant and became a platoon leader in the 55th Training Battalion. When Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., the Army’s first black general officer, inspected Camp Wolfers in June 1942, Sergeant Shuffer was his aide for the visit. Davis was impressed by the young sergeant and urged Shuffer to apply to Officer Candidate School (OCS).
Taking Davis’s advice, Shuffer attended OCS at Fort Benning, Georgia. Other black soldiers warned him not to go into town because white MPs often gave black officer candidates delinquency reports, which could result in ejection from OCS. On 2 February 1943, Shuffer was commissioned as a second lieutenant of Infantry.
Second Lieutenant Shuffer was assigned as a platoon leader in the 2d Airbase Security Regiment, Fort Swift, Texas. He thought he would be respected as an officer and gentleman at last, but he had to travel to his new assignment riding in the train’s coal car. At his first officers’ call, the colonel addressed the officers as “gentlemen and colored second lieutenants!” Frustrated, Shuffer could barely listen to the rest of the speech.
The Army inactivated all airbase security units in 1943. Lieutenant Shuffer joined the black 93d Infantry Division and was assigned to lead 3d Platoon, Antitank Company, 368th Infantry. The 93d Division was deployed to the Solomon Islands in January 1944, where Shuffer’s company trained with the new 57mm antitank gun. At Benika Island, they guarded critical landing beaches from the threat of Japanese forces that were harassing supply depots.
In 1944, political pressure forced General Douglas MacArthur to assign the 93d Division to combat missions. The division was reassigned from theater reserve to mop up pockets of resistance bypassed during the island hopping in the Pacific Theater. Major General Harry H. Johnson, commanding general of the 93d Division, was so impressed with Shuffer that he promoted him to first lieutenant and placed him in command of the regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon. In April 1945, the 368th Infantry cleared part of Morotai Island. Shuffer earned a Bronze Star for valor and the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB). In July, Shuffer fought in Zamboanga on Mindanao in the Philippines, where his platoon killed or captured numerous Japanese “stay behind” soldiers, who fought in groups of fifty or less, and who could be fanatics or hungry stragglers who would surrender given the chance. Shuffer was then named regimental intelligence officer (S-2). After hostilities ceased on 15 August 1945, he helped process over eight thousand prisoners of war for repatriation to Japan. After completing his overseas service, Shuffer was assigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He and Cecilia Mann married on 8 January 1946, in Tucson, Arizona.
On 26 July 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981, mandating equal opportunity for all within the armed services without regard to race, officially ending racial segregation in the military. The directive allowed integration to be implemented over time, so some units remained segregated for several more years.
In 1949, Shuffer was serving in the 365th Infantry, a black regiment assigned to the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Dix, New Jersey. In January 1950, Shuffer was made assistant operations officer (G-3). He was the first African American officer in the otherwise all-white headquarters of the 9th Division and inspected training of all the division’s infantrymen.
On 25 June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. President Truman soon ordered U.S. forces to Korea. In September, Shuffer went to Korea as Weapons Platoon Leader, Company G, 2d Battalion, 24th Infantry, a black regiment assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. Unlike many white officers of the era, the 24th Infantry’s commander, Colonel John T. Corley, had confidence in the abilities of black soldiers. During World War II, Corley had commanded a battalion that included an African American rifle platoon in the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.
After heavy fighting through the fall of 1950, replacements made up more than two-thirds of the 24th Infantry’s officers. Experienced black officers began to be assigned regardless of race. In October, Shuffer became executive officer of Company G.
As the U.S. Eighth Army advanced through North Korea to the Yalu River and the border with Manchuria, Communist Chinese “volunteer” units initiated a violent counteroffensive in November 1950. Soon, UN forces retreated south in disarray.
On Thanksgiving Day, 23 November, Company G was dug in high on a rugged mountain north of Kunu-ri. At 2100, a large Chinese force made a frontal assault against the company’s position, splitting the American unit as it reeled back. The company commander led his platoons southwest toward Company E. Shuffer led two platoons southeast toward the largely African American 3d Battalion, 9th Infantry, 2d Infantry Division. Although greatly outnumbered, Shuffer’s men inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy and helped buy time for the 25th and 2d Divisions to re-establish a defensive line north of Kunu-ri. Shuffer’s depleted platoons then rejoined Company G. For his actions at Kunu-ri, Shuffer received the Silver Star and his second CIB.
In January 1951, the Eighth Army withdrew through Seoul and established a defensive line forty miles south of the capital. By February, the Eighth had returned to the Han River. At that time, Shuffer took command of Company F, 2d Battalion, 24th Infantry.
In Operation Ripper, the Eighth Army used the 25th Division as a hinge to swing up toward the 38th Parallel. The 24th Infantry was to cross the Han River and seize the high ground to the rear of the enemy, so the other regiments of the 25th Division could cross the Han further east. Shuffer’s company was to spearhead a diversionary attack before first light at 0600 hours on 7 March. Under a heavy artillery barrage, Company F crossed the river in twenty-man assault boats and advanced to seize Hill 688. The company assaulted the hill, capturing over 100 prisoners and killing 153 enemy soldiers. Company F suffered nine killed and twenty-eight wounded. The rest of the 2d Battalion crossed the Han River and dug in. At 2000 hours an enemy battalion counterattacked. They were stopped at Shuffer’s command post by small arms fire, grenades, and artillery support. The Chinese eventually withdrew on the night of 8 March. For his actions on Hill 688, Shuffer earned a second Silver Star.
In April 1951, the 25th Division advanced toward the “Iron Triangle,” a rail nexus north of the Hant’an River. The 2d Battalion, 24th Infantry, came up against heavy enemy resistance on the Pogae-San mountain range on 16 April. The Chinese held firm atop a steep slope, throwing hand grenades downhill. Shuffer’s men dug in 300 meters from the crest. At dusk, a single Chinese 120mm mortar round detonated near Shuffer. Fragments pierced his neck, shattered his jaw, and struck him below the ribcage. Shuffer was carried down the mountain to an aid station. Shuffer’s condition stabilized at the 43d Mobile Army Surgical Hospital at Ouijongbu. After a long medical evacuation and two surgeries, he arrived at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC, on 12 May 1951. During his recuperation, he was promoted to captain and received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
In 1954, Captain Shuffer was assigned to the 2d Armored Division in Germany as an intelligence officer. He earned an M.A. in History from the University of Maryland in 1959 and was promoted to major. Shuffer went to Taiwan in 1962 to serve as an advisor to the Army of the Republic of China. In 1963 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Shuffer and his family returned to the United States aboard the USS General William Mitchell, a single stack troopship. This was no pleasure cruise. Only one table on the ship was large enough for the growing Shuffer family that included ten children, with another on the way.
In 1964, Shuffer assumed command of 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. On 16 August 1965, Shuffer was alerted that his battalion was to be deployed to Vietnam as part of the 1st Infantry Division. Because the 1st Division did not take its two organic tank battalions to Southeast Asia, two 2d Infantry battalions replaced them.
Shuffer’s battalion arrived in Vietnam in October 1965 and established a base camp at Lai Khe, near the Michelin Rubber Plantation, on Highway 13. By 11 November, the battalion cleared Highway 13 to Tay Ninh. The highway was secured at Ap Bau Bang to allow the passage of the South Vietnamese 7th Regiment.
The Battle of Ap Bau Bang was the 1st Infantry Division’s first major combat action in Vietnam. Near the village (Ap in Vietnamese) of Bau Bang, Shuffer’s battalion dug in on a mound. Concerned that this position could be silhouetted at night, Shuffer moved his forces to the concealment of a pea patch with stalks five feet tall. M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs) of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, used their rear ramps to clear the edge of the field, providing a killing zone. Shuffer’s command post had a helicopter landing zone, and his jeep was camouflaged nearby so he could use its radios from his foxhole.
At 0230 hours on 12 November, the 272d Viet Cong (VC) Regiment occupied Bau Bang and attacked the empty dugouts on the mound. At sunrise they realized their mistake and surrounded the 2d Battalion’s positions. Their first two attacks failed to breach the concertina wire, and a third attack was hurled back by the 105mm howitzers of 2d Battalion, 33d Artillery. A final frontal assault was cut down by withering small arms fire of Company A, machine gun fire from the APCs, and artillery called in from Lai Khe. The VC retreated to the jungle, where helicopter gunships and fighter jets savaged the fleeing guerrillas.
After noon, the battalion swept the jungle and took back the village of Bau Bang. They counted 198 VC killed. For their actions at Bau Bang, Shuffer’s battalion received a Valorous Unit Award. Shuffer earned his third Silver Star and his third Combat Infantryman Badge. The action inflicted heavy losses on the VC and secured Highway 13.
Shuffer’s next battle would be more difficult. As part of the 3d Brigade, 1st Infantry Division’s Operation Bloodhound-Bushmaster II, the 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry, aptly code named “Decoy” for the operation, was to clear a road from the Michelin Rubber Plantation to Ben Cat, a mission that made many of Shuffer’s men unhappy. Some felt they were being sent down the same jungle road for days as bait to make the enemy attack in greater numbers. Bau Bang had been fought on favorable terms, but this time the battlefield was chosen by the enemy. The VC lay in wait in an entrenched base camp to ambush the Americans.
At 1230 on 5 December 1965, near Ap Na Mat, the 2d Battalion came under attack by four battalions of the 272d and 273d VC Regiments. Companies B and C were pinned down by heavy machine gun fire. Company B took cover at the west shoulder of a jungle road. The situation became so desperate that the battalion command group was deployed to complete the perimeter defense. Numerous laterite ant hills, three feet high, provided some protection. Mortars hit VC machine gun platforms in the treetops. This enabled the battalion to hold their ground and fire on the VC positions.
From his command and control helicopter, Lieutenant Colonel Shuffer coordinated superior firepower against the enemy. Air strikes were directed to the east, artillery was called on the VC base camp to the south, and helicopter gunships targeted the area to the north. For more than four hours, there was a virtual curtain of fire around the 2d Battalion. The entire area shook as 500-pound bombs broke the back of the VC attack.
The VC left over 300 dead. Seven enemy soldiers were captured, along with four truck loads of supplies, and twelve tons of rice. Shuffer’s 500-man battalion lost forty killed, 104 wounded, and one missing. Shuffer’s 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry, received a second Valorous Unit Award for its actions on 5 December at Ap Na Mat.
Shuffer thought critical areas like this Viet Cong base camp should have been held by more ground troops to deny enemy use. Had they done so, he felt the war could have ended differently. Instead, the U.S. forces went on to “search and destroy” operations to defeat an elusive, determined enemy.
Shuffer moved up to be the G-2 (intelligence officer) of II Field Force in March 1966. He left Vietnam in August of that year. He then became Military Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense and was promoted to colonel on 28 August 1968.
Shuffer took command of the 193d Infantry Brigade, Panama Canal Zone, on 15 April 1970. In Vietnam, the desire for survival had made blacks and whites foxhole buddies. Back on garrison duty, however, racial strife plagued the Army. Colonel Shuffer promoted an Equal Opportunity/Race Harmony Program with equal enforcement of military justice. Every unit was integrated and Shuffer forbade any expression of racism.
In 1972, Shuffer was promoted to brigadier general and became Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, U.S. Army Europe. In Germany, Shuffer had to deal with more racial tensions. Self-segregated black and white mess hall seating spread to German restaurants. If someone from another race entered, fights often broke out. Shuffer again implemented an Equal Opportunity/Race Harmony Program and started thoroughly integrating U.S. Army Europe. The color guard had to represent all races while marching shoulder to shoulder, divisive racial symbols were banned, and any German restaurant catering exclusively to any race would be off limits to GIs. Slowly, racial tensions subsided.
Shuffer became Assistant Division Commander of the 3d Infantry Division in Würzburg in August 1974. At last Shuffer was a general officer on duty with troops in the field. Running on the track around the airstrip at Leighton Barracks on 27 December, Shuffer slipped on the ice and fell. Unaware he had fractured his hip, he continued regular duty with a limp. When he could not march because of the pain, he was examined by a doctor, who discovered his hip joints were disintegrating. On 1 July 1975, he was evacuated to Walter Reed hospital and declared unfit for active duty. He soon retired after thirty-five years of military service.
After retiring, Shuffer immediately set out to continue his service to his fellow soldiers, along with his faith. To facilitate both callings, he became a deacon in the Catholic Church in 1977. He served as a chaplain at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, for the next twenty-seven years. After a long career as a soldier and hospital chaplain, Shuffer died on 5 February 2005 at the age of eighty-one.
In his thirty-five-year military career, George M. Shuffer, Jr., rose from private to brigadier general. He started as an unpaid recruit serving in a segregated unit commanded by white officers. He finished his distinguished career as a brigadier general and assistant division commander of an integrated infantry division. Through the example of his exemplary service and leadership, he helped bring about the equality enjoyed by all races in the Army today.