African-American soldiers, segregated into all-black units during World War II, were typically assigned to supply or construction duty, often behind the lines. But those assigned to DUKWs often found themselves under fire. These men challenged the existing prejudices against blacks in combat positions.
In France and Germany the DUKWs were sometimes used to carry troops across terrain cut by streams and rivers. In his memoir Parachute Infantry, David Kenyon Webster describes riding a DUKW “like a sailboat in a gentle swell” into Berchtesgaden, gateway to Hitler’s alpine lair, a triumphant moment for a vehicle that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower later called “one of the most valuable pieces of equipment produced by the United States during the war.”
In the Pacific, Marines used the DUKW as an assault craft, forming amphibian truck companies known, not suprisingly, as the Quack Corps. For landings in heavy surf, Marine drivers learned to gun the engine and ride the waves, landing well up onshore. When Marines landed on Saipan in June 1944, LSTs—Landing Ship, Tank—disgorged the DUKWs.
Arthur W. Wells, a sergeant in the Second Amphibian Truck (DUKW) Company, says many Marines first jeered at the strange-looking hybrids, shouting “Quack! Quack!” as they lumbered by. The jeers turned to cheers when they saw DUKWs carry wounded Marines out to hospital ships.