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Ricks paved way for corps' African-Americans
by Sgt. Anastasia Norman
Retired MSG Percy Ricks Jr., like many Americans of his day, was drafted in the pre-World War II Army build-up of September 1941. After training at Fort Francis E. Warren, Wyo., and Camp Hogan, Calif., Ricks was transferred to the communications depot at San Bernadino, Calif.
Before long this outstanding young leader-in-the-works came to his superiors' attention. Promoted to corporal and then to sergeant, within the next few months Ricks found himself in charge of a 16-soldier squad.
Later in 1942, his entire company transferred to Fort Lewis, Wash., and then again to Camp White, Ore., to support 91st Division. Soon his supervisors began to use the special talents Ricks had to offer. They entrusted him with missions requiring more than just the normal squad leader.
In July Ricks was sent to Medford, Ore., to scout out a suitable location and organize entertainment and recreation for Camp White's black troops. Ricks was also chosen as a liaison between Camp White's military police and Medford's chief of police, working under the camp provost marshal's guidance.
When he returned to his squad at Camp White, Ricks continued to excel in many areas. This included setting the post obstacle-course record by running Camp White's course in 45 seconds while the camp commanding general and his staff watched.
On Aug. 1, 1942, 11 months after being drafted, Ricks was promoted to first sergeant and assigned as special cadre in charge of two training companies at Camp Carson, Colo. Ricks was 22; at that time, and now, he has the distinction of being one of the youngest first sergeants in contemporary Army history.
One year later, Ricks' company was finally alerted for overseas duty. The entire company and all its equipment was transferred to Camp Shanks, N.Y., to train and prep for overseas movement to the Mediterranean.
The company left for North Africa April 29, 1943, on a 12-day voyage to a transition point in Oman. From there the unit moved to Tunisia, where the men transported bombs, supplies and fuel for units such as 8th Army Air Corps, which was departing from Tunisia to Sardinia, an island off Italy.
Soon it was Ricks' turn to travel to Italy. As the Allies pushed through the Italian peninsula upwards into Austria, bound for Germany, Ricks and his men were transferred to Caglieri, Sardinia's capital. While his company was in Italy, they supported 8th Air Corps' 12th Wing's transport section, then part of the Signal Corps.
Within 13 months, his company was transferred again, this time to Italy's mainland, where they continued to carry on their support mission with distinction, this time for 5th Army and the Army Air Corps. Upon completing his mission in Italy, and after V-E Day, Ricks was redeployed to the United States for discharge. (He had been drafted for wartime service originally.)
Ricks was discharged at Norfolk, Va., and traveled directly to Fort McPherson, Ga., where he re-enlisted voluntarily for three years. He regained his rank and position as a Signal Corps first sergeant.
Ricks also "made history" in becoming the first black first sergeant of a racially integrated unit (at Long Island, N.Y.). Then 26, he had been in the Army less than five years.
Ricks retired from the military in 1962 after 21 years' service. He donated his personal papers to the Signal Center and Fort Gordon, Ga., Dec. 3, 1993.
He resides in Augusta with his wife Mildred.
Sgt. Norman assigned to 551st Signal Battalion at Fort Gordon, Ga. is on special assignment to the command historian's office, U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon.
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