Lewis Eikner was born in Gainesville, Texas in 1924. He enlisted in the Army in 1942, training at Camp Walters, Texas. After an assignment with the 175th Coast Artillery at Fort Lawton, Washington, Eikner joined the 92nd Infantry Division in Italy. He was a squad leader for Company C, 370th Regiment. After World War II, he spent two years serving in the 25th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, before his assignment with the 14th Transportation Car Company at Fort Monroe in 1947. During this time, Eikner also met and married Victoria Hawkins.
In the 1949 Fort Monroe Master Plan, the mission of the garrison required a Transportation Car Company. In March 1946, the 14th Transportation Car Company, a unit of Black soldiers, was activated at Fort Monroe. Until Executive Order 9981 racially integrated the Armed Forces on July 26th, 1948, Black and white soldiers served in separate units. The 14th Transportation Car Company appears to have been staffed by an overwhelming number of Black soldiers, except for a handful of white officers, well after the 1948 order. The company furnished transportation for the Office of the Chief of Army Field Forces and later the United States Continental Army Command until at least 1960. While assigned to Fort Monroe, Lewis and Victoria had three children in nearby Elizabeth City: Lewis born 1948, Emma born 1949, and Barbara born 1950.
In 1950, Corporal Eikner was serving in the Korean War and assigned to the Headquarters Battery, 96th Field Artillery Battalion. Victoria was living in Texas, most likely to be near her in-laws, when their daughter was born in March 1951. On July 7, 1951, Lewis died at Chang-ni, North Korea from injuries sustained in an accident, never having the chance to meet his daughter. Victoria submitted an application for a Veterans’ Headstone, honoring Cpl. Eikner’s nine years of service across two wars. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery in his hometown of Gainesville, Texas.
In his too-short life, Eikner left a prolific legacy. The 92nd Infantry Division also known as the Buffalo Soldiers Division, to which Eikner was assigned during World War II, was the only Black unit to serve in Europe during the war and one of only two Black units to serve in both World Wars I and II. The Korean War was the first conflict in which the United States sent integrated units, meaning that Eikner would have been at the forefront of this change.
Eikner’s legacy is preserved in the Fort Monroe Authority archive thanks to a Fort Monroe newsletter that his daughter donated to the Casemate Museum in 2016. When the collection was processed, our staff conducted more research through newspaper articles and military documents available on resources, such as Ancestry. Prior to learning Eikner’s story, many of our staff was unfamiliar with the segregated unit that was the 14th Transportation Car Company and its role on Fort Monroe. Researching the history of this unit has helped us to interpret the segregation – and subsequent integration – of the Army and the experiences of Black soldiers on Fort Monroe in the mid-20th century.
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Fort Monroe Authority. “Lewis Charles Eikner.” Illuminating Shadows, April 21, 2023. [access date]. [URL].