Park Forest Veteran Vindicated 60 Years Later

Commentary

The Chicago Sun-Times has a stirring story about a resident of Park Forest’s Victory Centre who recently received an apology from the United States Army over his wrongful conviction in connection with the 1944 death of Italian POW Guglielmo Olivotto.

According to the Sun-Times report:

[Roy Montgomery] was just 23, fresh from Army basic training and stationed at Fort Lawton in Seattle. The next day, he would be sent to New Guinea as part of a crew loading and unloading ships.

Dusk had set in when a soldier rushed into Montgomery’s barracks with the news that an Italian prisoner of war punched out a black serviceman. Reinforcements were needed. A fight was brewing.

Montgomery ran from his quarters and into chaos.

Hundreds of men were throwing punches and swinging sticks. Others were running for cover or trying to keep the peace.

"It was a free-for-all," Montgomery recalled recently from his Park Forest home at the Victory Centre for senior citizens. "It was out of control."

The rioting lasted for almost an hour. When it was over, one of the POWs, Guglielmo Olivotto, was found hanged.

What followed was an incredible miscarriage of justice:

Forty-three men were charged in connection with Olivotto’s death. Twenty-eight of them were convicted.

All of them were black.

Montgomery was convicted of first-degree rioting. He was sent to Turlock, Calif., to an Army prison that once served as a Japanese-American internment camp. and released in 1947, according to the report.

Only last year were apologies made and convictions overturned:

Under pressure from Congress after the release of Hamann’s book, the Army overturned the convictions on Oct. 26.

Apologies were issued to the families at a July 27 ceremony in Seattle.

Montgomery chose not attend.

"I’m sick of it," he said.

In January, he applied for back pay due from the Army – a check that would have totaled about $700. The application was rejected, with the Army contending it did not have Montgomery’s complete service records. He is appealing the decision.

This is an incredibly miscarriage of justice.  Montgomery is now 87.

Read the full story here.