Mr. Wade, who had been an Army truck driver before being called to the front lines, was part of a little-known cadre of 2,221 black soldiers who fought alongside their white counterparts in the final months of World War II.
Afterward, he and many of the African American soldiers discovered that their wartime service had gone unrecognized by Army authorities. Mr. Wade formed the Association of the 2221 Negro Volunteers, World War II, and launched a lobbying effort aimed at military and political leaders to restore the benefits, ranks and medals that black troops had been denied.
Mr. Wade was an exceptionally determined man. In search of a better life, he hopped a freight train headed north out of Mississippi when he was only 11. He later became a successful businessman and financial adviser who counted such sports and entertainment stars as Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Berry Gordy among his clients.
He was a teenager when he was drafted into the Army in 1943. In basic training, he won awards for marksmanship, yet he was assigned a job as a truck driver. A similar fate awaited many other black troops, who were often relegated to supporting roles in supply, transportation or food-
Mr. Wade became a sergeant in the “Red Ball Express,” a renowned and heavily African American unit in the Army Transportation Corps that supplied Gen. George S. Patton’s troops in Europe.
But after U.S. infantry forces were depleted by heavy casualties during the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander, signed an order allowing volunteers from black service units to join white soldiers on the front lines.
The volunteers served in all-black platoons, with many of them, including Mr. Wade, accepting demotions so as not to outrank white soldiers. Otherwise, they fought as equals.
“I was a member of the first platoon to integrate the infantry, which had been a sacred cow for whites only,” Mr. Wade told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1995. “The results were amazing. We ate together, slept together, fought together. There were no incidents. The Army couldn’t believe it.”
The black infantrymen “rated extremely high” in battle, said David P. Colley, author of “Blood for Dignity: The Story of the First Integrated Combat Unit in the U.S. Army.” “These guys were essentially the first [black soldiers] to be integrated into units in the Army since the American Revolution.”
Mr. Wade, a member of the 99th Infantry Division, was among the first U.S. troops to cross the Rhine at Remagen, Germany, in March 1945. Not long afterward, he was leading a squad of 12 soldiers when they were hit by a shell from a German tank. Six men under his command were killed, and Mr. Wade was evacuated to a hospital in England with shrapnel in his lungs, shoulder, arm and eyelid.