On June 24, 1945, 1st Lt. Robert J. Peagler Jr. found himself far from his New Milford home, charging uphill toward two Japanese pillboxes an island near Okinawa.

His company’s machine gun had jammed, so he charged ahead alone, firing his rifle and tossing hand grenades. He killed six Japanese soldiers before he was cut down by a sniper’s bullet, and died on the battlefield.

For his bravery that day, Peagler was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, an honor second only to that of Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award.

Peagler’s commanding officer, Capt. Alder F. Watts, paid him tribute in a letter to his family, dated July 4, 1945.

“The finest tribute an officer can receive is the unstinted admiration of his men,” Watts wrote. “As a battery commander, I have been proud to know that the soldiers of your son’s platoon considered him to be of the finest type of leader.”

Peagler was among nine black soldiers awarded the DSC for heroism during World War II. But while 294 white soldiers received the Medal of Honor, not one of the nearly 1 million black soldiers who served was even considered.

In the 1990s, the Department of Defense commissioned Shaw University in North Carolina to study whether racial bias had played a role in the awarding of medals during the war. In a 200-page report, Shaw researchers concluded that it had, and recommended that 10 black soldiers — including Peagler — be considered for elevation to the Medal of Honor.

In 1997, former President Bill Clinton awarded the medals to seven of the 10, six of them posthumously.

“No African American who deserved the Medal of Honor for his service in World War II received it,” Clinton said at the time. “Today, we fill the gap in that picture and give a group of heroes, who also love peace but adapted themselves to war, the tribute that has always been their due.”

But Peagler, for reasons that have never been made clear, was not among the men remembered that day.

Since then, several of Peagler’s nine siblings, with the help of a close family friend, have campaigned to see Peagler get the award. Over the years, they have enlisted the help of four of Connecticut’s U.S. senators, three of whom have been unable to move the DOD.

“When you give your life for your country, that has nothing to do with color,” said Frances L. Smith, the Peagler friend.

“They probably think the Distinguished Cross is enough, but it’s not,” Smith said. “If there is something better, give it to him. His devotion to the U.S. was beyond the call of duty.

“He had 10 siblings; six of the eight boys fought in that war,” she continued. “Here you have a family, and here you have a soldier, who gave the U.S. everything. We as African Americans have given enough. Enough is enough.”

Among Peagler’s surviving relations is Orel Peagler Robinson, 88, whose first husband was his younger brother Charles. Robinson sat with Smith on a recent rainy day in the same three-bedroom home where all 10 Peaglers grew up.

“I give Fran a lot of credit,” Robinson said. “She don’t give up.”

“I just want to see him get the medal he deserves,” she added.

Philip Peagler, who lives in Greenwich, remembers his disappointment when his late brother, whom the family called Dick and the Army called “Peags,” was passed over for the Medal of Honor in the ‘90s.

“I have no idea why they eliminated him from the list,” Philip Peagler said. “It was all very strange. we were notified by the department that he would get it. I remember being interviewed by some magazine about it, then all of the sudden they said no.

“I just hope my brother Dick can get some justice.”

But for two decades, justice has been hard to come by, Smith said.

Owen Peagler, the only Peagler male who didn’t serve in the armed forces, died in 2015 after decades spent trying to get his brother the the medal. In his memoir, on display at the New Milford Historical Society, he describes his confusion over the Army’s rejection of the case.

“When the family questioned why Robert’s name had been removed from the nomination list, it was reported that he had not killed a certain number of the enemy but had only saved his troops from being killed!” Owen Peagler wrote.

Smith, 83, is still writing letters. As she ages, the task has taken on a sense of urgency.

“The exclusion of black soldiers in World War II from receiving the Medal of Honor was an inexcusable racial bias,” reads a letter she sent U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal Thursday. “Looking forward to hearing from you.”

Smith earlier had written to Sens. Chris Dodd and Joseph Lieberman, both of whom tried to help. More recently, Sen. Chris Murphy asked that Peagler’s case be reviewed once again, but his office said last week the Army declined to do so, saying it reviewed the matter fully in 1995 after the Shaw study.

“Like Senators Dodd and Lieberman before him, Senator Murphy requested the Army look into upgrading First Lieutenant Peagler’s military award,” said a statement from Murphy’s office. “After contacting the Army last December, we received notice in January that the Secretary of the Army declined to upgrade it.”

But Smith won’t take no for an answer.

“Fran Smith has been a bulldog on this,” Philip Peagler said.

Smith said she hopes Sen. Richard Blumenthal can succeed where others have failed. If not, she vows to write to President Donald Trump.

“I’m just going to keep trying and trying,” she said. “I think it will happen. The next letter is going to Trump. That’s for sure.”

blytton@hearstmediact.com; 203-731-3411; @bglytton