James Gould Cozzens’ Guard of Honor

The Challenge of Integrating Black Airmen in World War II in James Gould Cozzens’ Guard of Honor

David K. Vaughan

Overview of Novel 

When James Gould Cozzens joined the Army Air Forces (AAF) as a staff officer in 1942, he had published ten novels and was recognized as one of America’s most important young novelists.  First tasked to write World War II training materials, he was then assigned to the staff of General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, where he was asked to write speeches for General Arnold.  Cozzens did not like this job, claiming that Arnold was “illiterate.”  In the last year of the war his main task was to review and summarize sensitive military and political issues and events which could adversely affect the public perception of the AAF.  He became adept at identifying important issues and phrasing them in an easily understandable (and often ironically humorous) style.  In this position Cozzens was able to learn about many of the important issues that affected the AAF during the war.  Cozzens made use of several of these incidents in his 1948 novel about wartime life in the stateside Army Air Forces, Guard of Honor

This long (631 pages) novel describes three days of activities in the late summer of 1943 (“the third year of the war”) at Ocanara Army Air Field (OAAF), a fictional airfield located in central Florida.  There are three sections of the book, each one describing one day’s activities.  A significant event occurs in each of the three days.  On the first day, Thursday, an aircraft collision in darkness and in bad weather is narrowly avoided.  On the second day, Friday, a number of black airmen attempt to enter an off-limits officers’ club reserved for white officers.  On the third and final day, Saturday, several paratroopers are killed when, during a special military review, they jump out of their aircraft late and miss the intended landing area, falling into a nearby lake and drowning.

In the opening, shortest section of the novel (“Thursday”), seven of the most important characters are flying in a small navigation training plane, a twin-engine AT-7, from an airfield in Mississippi to their home field in Florida.  Flying the plane are General Ira “Bus” Beal, commander of the Army Air Forces Operations and Requirements Analysis Division (AFORAD) and his co-pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Benny Carricker, a fighter pilot recently returned from combat.  Riding in the cargo compartment are Colonel Norman Ross, General Beal’s air inspector, Captain Nathaniel Hicks, an administrative officer, Lieutenant Amanda Turck, a member of the Women’s Army Air Corps (WAC), Sergeant Dominic Pellerino, a crew chief assigned to maintain General Beal’s airplanes, and Corporal Mortimer McIntyre, a black soldier in a black engineering unit assigned to Ocanara AAF.  These characters have important roles in the novel, which describes the challenges they face as they respond to various personal and professional problems during the novel’s three-day time frame. 

An Army Air Force AT-7

General Beal is the youngest two-star general in the Air Force, recently assigned as commander of AFORAD.  He was a fighter pilot in North Africa and the Philippines and is expected to play an increasingly important role in the conduct of the war, especially in the forthcoming bombing campaign against the Japanese mainland.  As a relatively young man placed in a position of high responsibility, it is important that he make decisions in an informed manner and in keeping with Army Air Forces policy.  He has been placed in a position of broad authority, and the upper levels of the Army Air Forces leadership are observing his actions closely.  His wife, Sal, appreciates her husband’s achievements but is not entirely comfortable about the public visibility his new position brings.  The three significant events of the novel test his ability to respond to emergency situations promptly and effectively.  He depends on several individuals to help him meet those challenges.  He also displays a tendency to escape from the pressures of leadership by flying an operational aircraft, which he does during every one of the three days of the novel. 

General Beal’s flying companion is Lieutenant Colonel Benny Carricker, an aggressive fighter pilot just returned from the Pacific theater.  He was badly burned in an aircraft accident while flying in combat and is still recovering from the physical effects of the burns.  He is an excellent pilot, and his quick response, as General Beal’s co-pilot in the AT-7, prevents a serious accident at the end of the first day’s events.  He is also probably suffering from the psychological effects of combat flying in the war, although Cozzens does not explore (or even mention) this aspect.  Carricker’s impetuous action in striking a black pilot, who he believes was responsible for causing their near-miss accident at night, helps to precipitate the primary crisis of the novel.  It is evident that General Beal has a strong fondness for Carricker, and treats him as a son (Beal and his wife are childless).  His leniency towards Carricker probably is a result of their shared fighter pilot backgrounds, and he is willing to overlook, to a certain degree, Carricker’s impetuosity and unprofessional behavior.   

General Beal depends on the legal knowledge, experience, and maturity of Colonel Norman Ross, his Air Inspector, the equivalent of the modern Inspector General, whose office is to investigate complaints and to ensure that all command decisions and actions are in accordance with AAF policy and regulations.  Colonel Ross, who was a judge in civilian life, is directly involved in responding to the problems confronting General Beal.  He has a special role in responding to the situation which occurs when several black officers attempt to enter the officers’ club used by the white AFORAD officers.  Colonel Ross served with the Air Service during World War I in a non-rated status.  He is understandably feeling the pressure of responding to the demands of assisting General Beal.  He and his wife, Cora, who is the best friend of General Beal’s wife, have a son who is a B-17 pilot in Europe.  Colonel Ross serves as a surrogate father figure for General Beal. 

Captain Nathaniel Hicks is a writer in AFORAD’s Special Projects Directorate.  He was a magazine editor in civilian life before the war.  He does not normally work in close association with General Beal, but he has been assigned the task of revising an instructional manual, FM 1-15, Tactics and Techniques of Pursuit Aviation, a project in which General Beal, a fighter pilot, has understandably taken a special interest.

Although Hicks never expresses the idea directly, the improbable fact that he, a non-flying civilian before the war, has been assigned to help write a manual intended to help American fighter pilots out-maneuver enemy fighter pilots, understandably gives him a feeling of inadequacy to complete the task successfully.  In the process of gathering the most current information, he visits a number of current and former pilots.  He depends heavily on the expertise of Captain Gene Wiley, an American fighter pilot who recently returned from flying with the Royal Air Force; Wiley’s character is based on an actual combat pilot, Reade Tilley, an American pilot who flew with the RAF.  On the last day of the novel, Beal assigns Hicks a new task, to help publicize the efforts of AFORAD.  Captain Hicks is Cozzens’ surrogate figure in the novel. 

Second Lieutenant Amanda Turck is a young Women’s Army Air Corps (WAC) officer in charge of classified documents at Ocanara AAF.  She is also in charge of a WAC unit at the airfield.  Like Hicks, she is unfamiliar with military protocol and often expresses concern about her lack of knowledge in this area.  To do research for his assignment, Captain Hicks has borrowed a number of documents from the classified files section which she has recently been assigned to command.  They find themselves together in the area of the Ocanara airfield when the unfortunate army paratroopers parachute into a lake near the airfield during General Beal’s review ceremony.  She and Captain Hicks spend the evening together on the last day of the novel. 

Master Sergeant Dominic Pellerino, the primary representative of the enlisted ranks in the novel, is General Beal’s crew chief.  He is responsible for ensuring that any aircraft that the General flies is in perfect flying condition.  When he is not working on the General’s aircraft, he and the other enlisted aircraft maintenance men can be found in the “Knock and Wait” club, their unofficial relaxation facility behind a hangar on the flight line where they play cards and socialize.

The seventh individual traveling in the aircraft is Corporal (T/5; technician, 5th grade) Mortimer McIntyre, Junior.  T/5 McIntyre is a member of the black engineer unit at Ocanara AAF; Captain Hicks has arranged for McIntyre to ride on the aircraft so that he can return to his home field to avoid being absent without leave (AWOL). 

The AT-7 (the military version of the Beech Model 18) aircraft they are flying is designed to train navigators, and there are three navigator stations complete with instrument panels along the right side of the interior of the aircraft, an instructor’s pull-down seat on the left side, and a toilet compartment with a privacy door in the rear.  The three non-flying officers (Ross, Hicks, and Turck) are seated in the navigator positions, and Sergeant Pellerino is sitting on the pull-down seat.  T/5 McIntyre is sitting on the only remaining seat, the toilet seat in the back of the aircraft, with the door propped open. 

Although Cozzens provides carefully reasoned logic to explain why McIntyre is riding in the back of the aircraft (he is not a member of the crew, he is being given a ride back to Ocanara through the generosity of the General, and there is nowhere else to sit), he is nevertheless sitting at the back of the aircraft, the Air Force equivalent of riding at the back of a (flying) bus. 

The seating arrangement in the aircraft symbolizes the challenges presented in the novel: General Beal is responsible for guiding the aircraft to its appropriate destination, just as he is responsible for directing his command, AFORAD, successfully, which he does with the assistance of flying and non-flying personnel.  The aircraft and the people aboard it are emblematic of the central issues the novel presents. 

This symbolic scene summarizes the most troublesome and symbolically most important of the many problems facing General Beal (and his associated staff members) in the novel: what are they to do about the increasing numbers of black airmen in his command (and in the Air Force); how are they supposed to accommodate these individuals in a military service that has traditionally relegated them to subordinate, subservient, and labor-intensive roles? 

Although the novel is occupied with other issues, such as the pressures of making command decisions in a timely manner, managing complex administrative activities, the interaction of professional and temporary soldiers in the wartime Air Force, civilian/military relations, the role of women in the Air Force, and the problem of familiarizing the public with Air Force activities in a time when many activities are classified, the issue of black/white relations is the central and most significant of these problems.  It is introduced early in the novel and reappears at regular intervals throughout.  The crucial issue which is the focus of black/white relations is the pressure to increase the involvement of African-Americans in flying activities in the AAF.  In particular, the individuals assigned to a newly created bomber squadron present a new problem to the command structure of the AAF: how to accommodate members of a race of individuals who have previously been systematically prevented from participating in the essential daily workings of the operational air force. 

Since World War I, black Americans had traditionally been assigned to units whose tasks were to perform physical labor, such as driving vehicles, loading supplies, or building roads.  In the novel, T/5 McIntyre represents an individual involved in such activity, for he is a member of a black engineer unit assigned to OAAF.  In the early years of WWII, however, as a result of the efforts of an increasingly growing number of black politicians and spokespersons, the Army Air Force was directed to establish a training program for black pilots.  This program was established at Tuskegee Institute, an all-black educational program in Alabama.  By 1943, the first black pilots had graduated from the Tuskegee flying training program, and the Air Force struggled to find a role for black pilots in an all-white Air Force.  Eventually the problem was “solved” by sending the first all-black flying unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, directly from Tuskegee to the North African Theater, unfortunately without any combat training. 

In the novel the black bomber group is a special project assigned to AFORAD, the command that General Beal oversees.  The most significant representatives of this project in the novel are the members of one particular B-26 crew, whose aircraft arrives at Ocanara AAF at exactly the same time that General Beal’s AT-7 arrives.  Both aircraft arrive at night, in storm-filled skies.  The B-26 aircraft, flown by an all-black crew, is experiencing radio failure, and, the pilot, unable to hear the tower operator’s instructions, turns into the path of General Beal’s aircraft.  Only aggressive airmanship by Colonel Benny Carricker, General Beal’s co-pilot, prevents a serious accident.  Spotting the B-26 at the last second as it turns to land just in front of them, Carricker adds power and turns the AT-7 aircraft away from the B-26.  After landing, Carricker, furious about the near miss, rushes over to the parked B-26, and strikes the pilot in the face.  In his haste and anger in the darkness, Carricker fails to see that he has just struck an African-American officer.  The pilot, Lieutenant Stanley Willis, is taken to the field hospital with a broken nose. 

General Beal places Carricker under arrest and confines him to his quarters.  General Beal is unhappy that he has to discipline Carricker.  On the following day, while General Beal and his air inspector, Colonel Ross, debate their options for punishment, the members of Lieutenant Willis’ unit decide to protest their treatment by attempting to enter the OAAF officers’ club, which has been placed off-limits to them.  Although most are prevented from entering the club by a member of the provost marshal’s staff (the air police), three black officers force their way into the club.  One of them physically moves the air policeman who is attempting to block the door.  Another black airman disarms the air policeman.  A third black airman briefly enters the club.  All three are arrested.  Initially the other black airmen who are present are arrested as well, but are later released. 

To complicate General Beal’s situation, two general officers arrive on short notice, one of whom has been sent to the field to award the Distinguished Flying Cross to Lieutenant Willis for his role, several months earlier, in finding a safe landing area for a flight of aircraft when fuel was running low, also in bad weather.  Without directly saying so, Cozzens indicates that Lieutenant Willis has exceptional piloting skills.  The following day, Lieutenant Willis’ father comes to the base to see his injured son just as the medal is about to be awarded to his son.

Thus, in the novel the black airmen are confined or restricted at the very moment that they are introduced as a part of a new effort to expand their roles in the Army Air Forces.  The conflict between efforts to expand opportunities for black officers and airmen in a military organization and traditional military and social restriction of the movements of those airmen provides the thematic thread linking the key events of the novel. 

Carricker’s imprudence in striking a junior officer (whether white or black) would be a major problem in itself, one which would normally have brought at least Article 15 punishment (administrative punishment), if not a court martial.  The fact that he struck a black officer complicates the problem.  Colonel Ross suggests that Carricker apologize to Lieutenant Willis; Carricker at first resists the suggestion, but eventually agrees to do so.  As far as can be determined, there was no actual historical event on which the Carricker/Willis confrontation was based; however, there were numerous incidents of physical confrontations between individual members of black and white military organizations at various locations throughout the United States during the war (see Cozzens’ Diaries).    

Historical Context: The Freeman Field “Mutiny” 

Cozzens based the Ocanara Officers’ Club episode on an actual incident that occurred at Freeman Field, Indiana, in the spring of 1945.  In that episode, several members of the all-black 477th Bomb Group who were conducting training in their B-25 aircraft attempted to enter the officers’ club at Freeman Field but were denied entry.  Initially all black officers were restricted to quarters afterwards, but eventually they were released and only three officers were placed under arrest, one of them given a more serious charge of pushing a military policeman, while two others were charged with failure to follow directives.   

The 477th Bomb Group was established after four squadrons of black fighter pilots had been created.  The first all-black flying squadron, the 99th Fighter Squadron, had been deployed to North Africa in April of 1943 and, after receiving some hastily arranged training in combat flying, entered combat in the summer of 1943.  Cozzens refers to the 99th Fighter Squadron in the novel, but he says nothing about the other three squadrons (the 100th, the 301st, and the 302nd, all members of the 322nd Fighter Group), that were in training in the United States from May through December of 1943.  These units were sent to the European theater in January of 1944. 

One of the reasons for the problems associated with the 477th Bomb Group (none of its members ever saw combat) was that because there were five separate crew positions in the B-25 (the aircraft flown by the 477th BG), training requirements were much more complex than training pilots to fly single-engine fighter aircraft.  A bomber crew required two pilots, a navigator, a bombardier, and a radioman and gunners.  Single engine pilots could be (and were) trained at the flying schools at Tuskegee Institute, the only black pilot training program in the US during WWII.  The pilots of the 99th received no additional follow-on training in the US, but the pilots of the other three squadrons received an extensive nine-month training program at Oscoda Army Air Field, a sub-base of Selfridge AAF near Detroit.  The pilots of the 332nd received the kind of combat training that the pilots of the 99th should have received. 

The officer crew members of the 477th received training in three separate training tracks (pilots, navigators, bombardiers), and there were delays while that training was conducted, because the Army Air Force policy was not to integrate black and white airmen in its training programs.  Initially the 477th was assigned to Selfridge Field early in 1944, because that was the field to which the three squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group had been assigned during 1943.  But because there were more flying officers in the 477th (four of the five crew members were officers), there were many more black officers at Selfridge in 1944 than there had been in 1943, when black officers spent more time at Oscoda than at Selfridge.  For each bomber aircraft assigned to Selfridge, there were four officers instead of the one to one ratio for fighter aircraft.  As a result, there was increased pressure to integrate all activities at Selfridge Field.  The main issue was the officers’ club.  AAF policy was that all officers should be members of the officers’ club and should support its operation by paying monthly membership dues (a policy that continued well into the 1980s).  But black officers were not allowed to use the Selfridge Field Officers’ club and were directed to use another building, a converted supply building.  The pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group had protested this policy, but their intense training program at Oscoda kept them occupied (and away from Selfridge), and the issue was never forced. 

The delay in bringing fully trained crew members into the 477th in 1944 and the gradually increasing numbers of black officers at Selfridge began to cause growing friction over the issue.  The 477th was under the operational control of the First Air Force, a training command.  The commanding general of the First Air Force, Major General Monk Hunter, from Savannah, Georgia, resisted any efforts at integration.  In March of 1945, Hunter suddenly ordered the 477th to be moved from Selfridge to Godman Field, Kentucky, an airfield attached to the Fort Knox Army base.  Godman Field was a small, isolated airfield, where the black airmen were the only major tenants on the field.  The one small club located at Godman Field was used by the black airmen; the white officers could use the officers’ club at nearby Fort Knox; the black airmen were not allowed to use this club. 

However, Godman Field was too small to be useful as a training base for the 477th’s B-25s (it was intended to be a facility used only by liaison aircraft, small, single engine aircraft), and the decision was made to send the 477th to Freeman Field, Indiana, one hundred miles north of Fort Knox, which had much larger runways and more ramp space than Godman Field.  The officers’ club at Freeman Field was much larger and more completely equipped than the club at Godman, and it was being used by white officers.  The officers of the 477th refused to be denied use of the club, and on 5 April 1945, a small group attempted to enter the officers’ club at Freeman Field, in much the same manner as Cozzens describes the scene at Ocanara AAF.  The details of the incident that Cozzens describes are similar to those of the incident at Freeman Field.  In an effort to avoid obvious discrimination, General Hunter directed Colonel Selway, the 477th’s group commander, a white officer, to write a field regulation restricting access to certain facilities by training personnel. 

Cozzens’ Use of the Incidents at Freeman Field

In Cozzens’ novel, the AFORAD commander prevents the black officers from using the club through a strategy similar to that which was used at Freeman Field: by generating a special set of orders which stated that under certain conditions, officers assigned to the base in training status could not use the club, which was reserved only for officers permanently assigned to the base.  This policy was flawed legally as well as philosophically, because AAF practice was to allow any officer who was a member in good standing at one field and who was in transit, whether for training or administrative purposes, to use the officers’ club facilities at any other field.  And, it should be added, all officers were expected to join the officers’ club, for which a set amount was deducted from their monthly pay. 

Eventually, but not immediately, the AAF abandoned the effort to develop a regulation that would support a racist policy.  Those black officers who had been arrested because they had entered the officers’ club at Freeman Field were released and not tried by a court-martial. Only three of the Freeman Field “mutineers” were tried in a court-martial; one was tried for pushing past the provost marshal who guarded the door at the Freeman Field club; he received a light sentence.  Two others were tried because they disobeyed direct orders; they were not punished.  As a result of General Hunter’s concerted efforts to resist the efforts of the black officers to use clubs at the bases to which they were assigned for training, he effectively brought a stop to the training progress of the members of the 477th.  Given the amount of time and resources available, they should have been declared combat ready within nine months, by the end of 1944.  Instead, they were still not combat ready by the time hostilities ended in Europe; the war in the Pacific ended two weeks after their intended combat ready date of 1 August 1945. 

Another aspect of the Freeman Field “mutiny” found its way into Cozzens’ novel.  Lowell Trice, a black reporter for the Indianapolis Recorder, a publication for black readers, was able to make his way onto Freeman Field.  Initially he had been denied access to Freeman Field by Colonel Selway, but three black officers drove into Indianapolis and brought Trice onto the base, hiding him under a blanket when they passed the entry gate.  Once on the field, Trice mixed in with the black airmen, at one point literally standing in ranks with them.  Trice was thus able to discover firsthand what was going on at Freeman Field; he described his experiences in an article published in the Recorder

In Guard of Honor, a black reporter, Mr. James, is initially approved by the War Department to visit Ocanara AAF to write a story about the war effort, but Colonel Mowbray, the individual responsible for the operation of the airfield, later revokes his permit, claiming concerns about security, and orders him escorted off the base.  Mowbray fears that James is there to report on the arrival and treatment of the newly assigned black airmen, and he does not want to allow a member of the black press to have access to them, especially after Benny Carricker has just punched a black pilot in the face.

However, two officers at Ocanara AAF covertly bring a black man onto the field: two white lieutenants with strong egalitarian impulses, Lieutenant Phillips and Lieutenant Edsell, bring Mr. Willis, Lieutenant Willis’ father, to the base.  Cozzens modifies the historical details through highlighting the stridently egalitarian nature of these two young lieutenants.  Although modern readers are likely to view Lieutenants Edsell and Phillips as admirable fighters for racial equality, in the novel they are presented as occasionally abrasive and often borderline insubordinate young officers, whose efforts and attitudes, it is clear, are not appreciated by several officers, including Cozzens’ narrator.  Another historical detail that Cozzens included in the novel is the existence of a “mole” in the black unit, who provided information to the authorities about the intentions of the black crew members.  No specific individual was ever identified, either at Freeman Field or in the novel.

Cozzens also refers to Army Pamphlet 20-6, Command of Negro Troops, which was published by the Army during the war to offer advice to white officers about the treatment of black soldiers.  Interestingly, both Cozzens and James Warren, a black aviator who was part of the Freeman Field “mutiny” and who later authored an account of the event, cite the same passage from the pamphlet:

“The burden of deciding whether or not there shall be some separation in the use of camp facilities is placed on the local command with the assumption that local conditions will be taken into account”  (Cozzens, 170; Warren, 115).  

The pamphlet states that “white soldiers by a majority favor racial separation in the Army,” and states further that “this mass sentiment cannot be ignored” (this particular passage is quoted by Warren, quoting verbatim a telephone conversation between General Monk Hunter and General H. L. Hedrick.)  The pamphlet also states that recreational facilities “may be designated for the use of particular military units, not for the use of race or color” (Warren 115).  The language of this pamphlet was used as justification for the de facto segregation at Freeman Field.  (It should be pointed out, however, that a pamphlet does not have the same authority as a regulation.) 

At Freeman Field, the white authorities ordered that the black airmen read the special regulation restricting the use of the officers’ club and other base facilities and sign their names on a roster indicating that they had read and understood the order.  Most of the black airmen at Freeman Field refused to do so.  Cozzens uses this incident as the basis for one of the key thematic episodes in Guard of Honor, when Colonel Ross reads the order stating that certain field facilities (including the officers’ club) are off-limits to black airmen.  When this disturbing scene occurs in the novel, however, Cozzens inserts an unusual interlude, in which Colonel Ross, the most humane and thoughtful of the novel’s characters, reflects on the moral significance of the situation. 

Before he reads the order which the command has issued to justify denying the black airmen use of the officers’ club, Colonel Ross looks out at the auditorium filled with black airmen who have been assembled to hear him read the order, and he reflects that although the faces of the airmen displayed unhappiness and distrust, “it was not fair to form the conclusion that they were an unusually furtive, sullen, and shifty lot.” 

Instead, he considers that their cultural and social circumstances have placed them in a difficult situation, and he produces one of the strongest statements of racial empathy that appears anywhere in the novel: 

“Looked at sympathetically, with friendliness or good will, the ill-ease showed by these boys might be appealing—they were young; they were nervous.  They had faced the standing injustices of their world; they had overcome great handicaps, with little or no assistance, in order to sit here as commissioned officers.  Those who wore the wings of pilots, navigators, or bombardiers could be regarded as achieving more than white men who wore the same wings.  It had been harder for them to get the early schooling, simple as it was, which would fit them to enter the training courses.  It was fair to form the conclusion that they were an unusually sensitive, intelligent, and courageous lot.”  (233-4)  

Colonel Ross’ thoughts constitute an unusually clear-sighted representation of the situation of these young black airmen. 

Colonel Ross then proceeds to read the base regulation restricting their use of the base officers’ club which both he and the assembled men know is effectively a continuation of the Jim Crow laws supported by the larger civilian society.  The issue of whether or not it is the Air Force’s responsibility to provide a fully integrated service environment when civilian society does not reflect or even support such an environment is directly addressed in the novel, and Cozzens’ interpretation is that it is not (which is essentially what the AAF decided). 

Cozzens’ novel won the Pulitzer Prize partly, no doubt, on the basis of its attempt to recognize the existence of and challenges facing black Americans in the military, and to emphasize their situation in the Army Air Forces of World War II, but it is unlikely that a culturally sensitive reader today could read the novel with any great amount of satisfaction, for Cozzens makes little effort to enter the minds of his black characters or to depict them in even a modestly sympathetic manner. 

Representation of Blacks in the Novel 

The events of the novel are seen primarily through the eyes of the two main characters, Colonel Ross, an older, non-flying officer with a legal background (and thus frequently referred to as “Judge”), and Captain Hicks, who had been a magazine editor in civilian life before the war.  Captain Hicks is the character in the novel most like Cozzens in rank, position, and temperament.  The motivations and perspectives of these and other important characters are shown through Cozzens’ stream of consciousness narrative technique.  Some of the personal attitudes and motivations of other characters are less fully developed, as Cozzens does not provide a stream of consciousness mode in relating their experiences.     

The characters in the novel for whom Cozzens provides the least amount of internal reflection and explanation, and no stream of consciousness narrative, are the black characters.  We know almost nothing about their interior thoughts and reflections and know them only by what they say or what they do in the presence of white characters.  These include Lieutenant Willis, the alert but unfortunate black pilot, his father, Mr. Willis, and the black reporter, Mr. James.  Although many black characters appear in the novel, we know surprisingly little about them as individuals, especially given Cozzens’ propensity for providing detailed background information for the other characters in the novel. 

There are four separate groups of black characters in the novel, and all are depicted as “others,” whose thoughts and reflections are not presented.  The first group and most thematically important consists of the members of the newly formed bomber group, who attempt to enter the Ocanara AAF Officers’ club.  The second group consists of the black members of the airfield’s Base Services squadron (every airfield had such a squadron of African-American soldiers, in which the men were used as drivers and laborers, and occasionally—as in Guard of Honor—as installation band members).  The third group consists of the members of the colored engineers battalion, who try their best to save the lives of six unfortunate white paratroopers who are dropped into a nearby lake during an aerial demonstration in honor of General Beal in the third and final section of the book.  The fourth group consists of a wide range of black characters in traditional roles established for them by white society: these include a bellboy, a waiter, and cleaning ladies.  The characters in all four groups are treated as outsiders, members of the “other” society, whose individual perspectives and motivations are not available to the reader. For all we know of them, the black characters in the novel might be alien beings from another planet.  

The black characters are referred to by a variety of discriminatory epithets in the novel.  Cozzens includes a number of derogatory terms commonly used to describe blacks at the time, including the N—word (used seven times), jigaboo (seven times), darky, smoke, and dinge (each term used one time).  The N—word is used four times in a derogatory manner by characters with a clear bias against blacks (even General Beal uses the term, but in a casual, not intentionally harsh, reference).  The other three times the N—word is used occur when other characters in the novel (Colonel Ross, Lieutenant Phillips, and Lieutenant Edsell) intentionally repeat the word to mock the individuals who have just used the term in conversation to point to the biased and ill-informed attitudes of the speakers.  More familiar and more accepted terms, such as “colored airmen,” “Negroes,” and even a few “Afro-Americans” appear frequently throughout the novel.  The derogatory terms are used in the conversations primarily of two racially biased characters in the novel, both colonels in the old army, not by Cozzens as narrator, but their repeated use (a total of seventeen times) suggests that cultural sensitivity was less important to Cozzens than consistent characterizations.  

The only black character who is individuated in any detail is T/5 McIntyre, a member of the black engineer’s unit, who attempts to show his appreciation to Captain Hicks after Hicks manages to find a space for him on General Beal’s plane in the first section of the novel.  But McIntyre’s appearances in the story are relatively brief.  Except for McIntyre, all black characters are seen from a distance, as it were, with little insight into their emotions and attitudes.  

While he presents an accurate picture of how the AAF in World War II struggled with the challenges presented by incorporating black flying units into the operational air force, it appears that Cozzens had little empathy for his black characters on the matter of race.  He himself doubted that black Americans were capable of contributing productively to society.   

In defense of Cozzens’ distanced approach to the issue of black/white relations, we could say that the point of his novel was, in fact, to show that the white men and women characters in the novel were imperfect in many ways, and did not always respond appropriately to the many difficult situations which the novel presents, of which race relations was one of many challenges, and that some of them tried to resolve these complicated issues in those unfamiliar, trying, exceptional wartime circumstances. 

One passage from the novel best illustrates this interpretation of the novel: in the final section of the novel, as Colonel Ross stands on the reviewing platform next to General Beal and other senior officers, watching the men march past and the AAF aircraft fly overhead during the final day of the novel, he reflects on the hectic actions of the past two days, and he thinks that in spite of the unfortunate incidents that have occurred and the often apparent lack of managerial and social progress, 

“Downheartedness was no man’s part.  A man must stand up and do the best he can with what there is.  If the thing he labored to uncover now seemed in danger of stultifying him, could a rational being find nothing to do?  If mind failed you, seeing no pattern; and heart failed you, seeing no point, the stout, stubborn will must be up and doing.  A pattern should be found; a point should be imposed.  Was that too much?”  (534).  

Joseph Epstein, perhaps the most sensitive of Cozzens’ readers, identifies three central aspects of Cozzens’ best work, which includes Guard of Honor: respect for work, preference for day-to-day reality over theoretical concepts, and “gravity,” which “derives from a serious literary mind, unencumbered by the clichés of the day, at work on serious matters.”  If the plot of Guard of Honor is complicated by many characters and many issues—Epstein says that “it has a plot too intricate to summarize”—it is nevertheless a well-crafted work of exposition and irony.  While modern readers will be disappointed that it does not make a more emphatic statement on behalf of racial equality, the novel provides an accurate, honest, and revealing insight into how the Air Force attempted to work out a policy that, while officially supported by the War Department, was at odds with prevailing American attitudes of the time.              

To return to the image of the AT-7, in which T/5 McIntyre occupies the rear position in the aircraft, riding on the toilet with the door open, a generous reader would say that Cozzens at least found a place for his African-American airman on the General’s aircraft.  Initially neither General Beal nor Colonel Carricker seem to pay much attention to McIntyre except to note the effect of his presence on the aerodynamic balance of the aircraft: his position at the back of the aircraft adversely affects its flying attitude.  Colonel Carricker tells General Beal that “they must have somebody parked in the can,” and he suggests that General Beal “make us a little elevator trim, Chief” (15). 

The extra weight of T/5 McIntyre in the back of the aircraft results in an undesirable nose-up flying attitude, and General Beal adjusts the elevator trim accordingly so that all on board the aircraft will have a more comfortable, safe, and efficient flight.  In the military services as in General Beal’s training plane, some small (and maybe not-so-small) adjustments are necessary to accommodate the presence of this symbolic additional member of the U. S. Army Air Forces.  The novel depicts the awkward and inappropriate beginnings of the adjustments necessary to include the presence of black airmen in the operational Air Force.   


Guard of Honor, by James Gould Cozzens (Harcourt Brace, 1948) 

The Freeman Field Mutiny, by Lt Col James C. Warren (Conyers Publishing, 1996). 

James Gould Cozzens: A Life Apart, by Matthew J. Bruccoli (Harcourt Brace, 1983). 

James Gould Cozzens: A Time of War; Air Force Diaries and Pentagon Memos, 1943-45, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli (Bruccoli Clark, 1984). 

“Cozzens Repossessed,” by Joseph Epstein (Commentary, Sept 1, 1983).