I've had to revise my whole presentation on desegregation in comic books, based on my discovery of this 8-page Wally Wood story (written, drawn, and inked) from EC's Frontline Combat 15 (Jan 1954). I'd seen the cover before, and upon seeing it again re-noticed the African American soldier there depicted. So I gave it a read. "Perimeter" is set in the Korean War and features a 'mixed unit' of Americans plus their South Korean allies outnumbered by a combination of Chinese and North Korean troops. What makes this story stand WAY out is it's overt anti-racist stance and it's use of a character with racist attitudes in order to get the point across. Lots of 40s and 50s comics use disparaging terms and stereotypes to belittle the nation's enemies, but characters in those stories uttering racially abusive labels are made to look like that's an acceptable norm. Not so with this masterpiece. In this story the main target of racist abuse is an African American soldier, Matthews, who stands up for his South Korean allies when one of the other soldiers, a Yankee it seems, named Miller, refers to Koreans as 'gooks'. The sergeant in charge of the unit is a Southerner, from Texas apparently, and in this way Wood carefully avoids the stereotype that it's only Southerners that are racists, while clearly acknowledging that non-racist individuals also existed in that population. The sergeant remains silent on the issue of racism, presumably because of the racist contingent in his unit and the need to retain the respect and loyalty of all his men in combat. His silence is, however, interpreted by Miller as simply a cover for prejudice on the part of the sergeant, although he has no evidence to support his assumption, only that the sergeant is from the South, a belief which is revealing in and of itself.
Wood places the seed of his powerful punchline near the beginning of the story - Matthews carries and reads his Bible as a source of strength. After surviving a massive onslaught from the enemy, it's Miller who starts cracking up, convinced they're all going to die, and Matthews who offers him support, an offer which is met with scorn. The sergeant steps in and breaks up a potential conflict, and Miller reminds us that back home segregation is in full force. So here's an example of how the military was ahead of everyone else in terms of integration. Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, President Harry S. Truman, had signed Executive Order 9981 in 1948, after three years of build-up towards desegregation of the military. There was significant establishment of integration during the Korean War, but Vietnam is known for being the first fully integrated war. The military were years ahead of the Civil Rights Movement, and the G. I. Bill, which helped some returning African American soldiers carve out lives they would otherwise have been denied, was also an important factor in moving towards ending segregation at home.
Back to the story and the enemy mounts a new assault, and this time the Americans and their allies are forced to retreat, with the exception of the sergeant, armed with a Browning Automatic. Hearing a wounded American soldier nearby, in the rain and in the dark, he risks his life to pull him back to his foxhole, despite the soldier's insistence that he save himself and leave him to die. The soldier passes something, that we don't see, to the sergeant, asking him to give it to his family. The sergeant holds off one enemy attack after another, exhausting the B.A.R.'s ammo, and then his carbine's, until he's fending off North Koreans in hand to hand combat. Eventually day breaks and the worst is over. While waiting for reinforcements, the sergeant sits reading Matthews' Bible. Among those Americans who move back up to the sergeant's position is Miller, who scathingly derides the sergeant for risking his life for an African American (Miller obviously uses racist terminology, which Wood significantly turns into a deleted expletive). Matthews is hurt bad, but still alive thanks to his sergeant, who hands the Bible to Miller, commenting that he (Miller) is the one most in need of it. In classic EC fashion the last panel delivers the punch, or in this case the heftiest kick in the bal@& of racism imaginable - the Bible, by which many racists allegedly lived, is open, and we can just read the verse: Malachi 2.10 - "Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us?"
Note: my gratitude goes out to Joshua Thirteen for these scans.