updated 10/13/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 10/13/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT
The Real Story
During World War II, the U.S. Army's 92nd Infantry Division bravely fought the Nazis—but their battles on the home front were just as courageous. The division—nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers—was an all-black combat unit in a military that had barred African-Americans from fighting. Despite being treated like second-class citizens, the men of the 92nd fought hard. "We knew if we did our job well, it could change things for black people back home," says Norris Bucksell, 87, who served as a private.
That grit inspired Spike Lee's movie Miracle at St. Anna, which dramatizes an actual battle to save Italian peasants from the Nazis. "It's much harder to fight for a country [that] doesn't see you as a human being," says Lee. "These men are patriots." And civil rights pioneers: Soldiers in the 92nd were turned away from segregated officers' clubs and couldn't buy meals at restaurants where enemy POWs dined. But they served with distinction—pinning the German army down in Italy while Allied forces prepped for the Normandy invasion. (In 1997 two Buffalo Soldiers were belatedly given the Medal of Honor.) Six decades later the roughly 300 surviving vets are proud of their service. "You can't be bitter," says Bucksell. "People know we did a good job."