Floyd and Edris Dade

By Catherine Gong
February 2012

During World War II, Mr. Floyd Dade served under General George S. Patton in a segregated tank battalion called the “Black Panthers.” In 1944 Floyd not only fought in the Battle of the Bulge and engaged the enemy for 183 straight days but he and his fellow tankers of the 761st also liberated death camps in Austria.

Mr. Dade’s bravery was relatively unknown but because of the work of Mrs. Edris Dade, his wife of over 42 years, Floyd’s experiences as well as the stories of the other “Black Panthers,” have been recorded in books and documentaries. Also the 761st was formally recognized by President Carter and received the Presidential Unit Citation in 1978.

Years ago, I met Edris and her husband Floyd in San Francisco at a reception honoring veterans who liberated death camps. As a college student researching civil rights issues, I was especially struck by the central theme of Floyd’s story, freeing Jewish prisoners while serving in a segregated battalion.

When Floyd rose to speak, his memories from five decades ago did not seem like fifty years ago but five minutes ago. When he spoke about the horrors of the Holocaust and the racism we still needed to confront here in America, he consistently looked to his beloved wife, Edris for comfort when his eyes would well up with tears. Floyd was the man listed on the program as the speaker but undoubtedly it was Edris who was his support system and gave him the courage to speak about the men, women, and children in the camps who were tortured, starved, or murdered for their ethnicity.

After the reception, I worked up enough courage to introduce myself to the loving couple, and Floyd for some reason thought I organized the event but when I said I was just a student setting up chairs and tables and was just a “go-fer” for the real man who hosted the event he said, “Well, if you are a gopher, you are the prettiest gopher I’ve ever seen!” All three us of laughed and I said, “Sir, I am the tallest and biggest gopher you’ve ever seen!” Both Floyd and Edris made me so comfortable I asked if they could come to my history class and meet my professor and classmates.

Floyd and Edris were generous with their time. They traveled to Stanford University where my class was and everyone felt at ease therefore some students asked Floyd sensitive questions about civil rights abuses during World War II and after it. What did Floyd think about the Jews in Europe who were at times publicly hung in ghettos and death camps? What did Floyd think about the lynchings of African-Americans in America which occurred before and after World War II? Again, Floyd looked to his wife Edris for comfort and expressed it simply—hate is hate no matter where or when it occurred.

It took unbelievable bravery for Floyd to dig deep in his heart and mind to educate us about racial inequality and his beloved wife Edris was there to restore his strength every time. Whether it was a packed auditorium, church group, neighborhood potluck, or classroom, Edris was at Floyd’s side. Right up to Floyd’s death on September 27, 2006, Edris was there. Although she didn’t save countless camp survivors or serve in an all-Black tank battalion, Edris was just as committed as Floyd to educate us about the importance of civil rights.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that…” When I was a student, Edris was the light illuminating Floyd’s story so that all of us could see the horrors of racism through Floyd’s eyes—and now Edris continues to be Floyd’s light which will forever drive out the darkness of bigotry in our world.