Mike Kryzanek is a retired professor of political science at Bridgewater State University, and as part of his daily constitutional walks through Colebrook Cemetery in Whitman.
He passes the graves of Massachusetts men who fought in the Civil War, and the grave of Army Lieutenant John Fox.
He is always moved by this, thinking of young men who left Massachusetts to fight fellow countrymen who had decided maintaining slavery was more important than maintaining the Union. And he is especially moved by Fox, a Black man who fought and died for a country that treated him like a second-class citizen.
Fox was an officer with the segregated 92nd Infantry Division, the famed “Buffalo Soldiers.”
At Christmas 1944, German and Austrian troops advanced on a small town called Sommocolonia in the Tuscany region of Italy. The Americans who held the town were quickly outnumbered. Fox volunteered to stay behind as part of a small scout party, 70 Black Americans and 25 Italian anti-fascist partisans.
He took up his position on the second floor of an abandoned house, calling in artillery strikes on the advancing Nazis. As the Nazis kept coming, Fox called in strikes very close to his own position. After every round, Fox told the soldier on the other end of the radio, Lieutenant Otis Zachary, to bring them closer.
According to one account, Zachary, who had trained with Fox in Massachusetts and was his closest friend in the 92nd, drew the line when Fox called for a strike 60 yards closer.
“Fox,” Zachary yelled, “that will be right on you. I can’t do that.”
As he formulated his response, Fox was aware that the advancing enemy was operating under the racist ideology of Nazism and had been instructed not to take members of the 92nd prisoner. He was also aware his own white commanders had withheld reinforcements and even blood transfusions from wounded Black soldiers.
“Fire it,” Fox replied.
As Fox’s Army citation reads, “After acknowledging the danger, Lieutenant Fox insisted that the last adjustment be fired, as this was the only way to defeat the attacking soldiers. Later, when a counterattack retook the position from the Germans, Lieutenant Fox’s body was found with the bodies of approximately 100 German soldiers. Lieutenant Fox’s gallant and courageous action, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life, contributed greatly to delaying the enemy advance until other infantry and artillery units could reorganize to repel the attack.”
John Fox was 29. He left a widow, Arlene Marrow, who was from Brockton, where they lived before he left for war, and their 2-year-old daughter, Sandra. Arlene had him buried at Colebrook in Whitman, and fought for decades for his sacrifice and the service of his fellow soldiers to be recognized.
In the early 1990s, the Army determined that Black soldiers who served in World War II had been denied consideration for the Medal of Honor solely because of their race. In 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded seven Black soldiers, including Fox, the Medal of Honor, all but one posthumously.
When he researched Fox’s life and death, Mike Kryzanek wondered why more had not been done to memorialize him.
“The Girl Scouts in town take great care of the grave,” he said.
But on a recent walk, Kryzanek had an idea: Why not name one of the 10 military bases currently named after Confederate generals for Fox?
If those generals had their way, Fox would have been a slave, not a soldier. Fox would never have had a chance to save the lives of his fellow soldiers, and to receive this nation’s highest military honor.
Fox did his infantry training at Fort Benning in Georgia, named for a virulent white supremacist.
Confederate General Henry Benning abandoned his country. Fox died for his.
The infantry is the backbone of the most powerful military in the world. Future soldiers would be better served emerging from training at a place named for a war hero, not a traitor.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at email@example.com.