African Americans have served the U.S. military in every conflict our country has fought. While President Harry S. Truman’s order technically ended segregation in the military in 1948, Black service members continued to fight battles on two fronts – against the enemy overseas and against racism at home. This February, we share the inspiring stories of African American Veterans who showed tremendous courage and heroism during World War I.
During World War I, approximately 367,000 African Americans service members served in Europe. The U.S. was in desperate need of manpower and thus, organized two divisions of segregated men, the 92nd Division and the 93rd Division. The 92nd would carry the name “Buffalo Soldiers” as their nickname and the 93rd would be known as the “Blue Helmets.” Several regiments of African American soldiers were organized and trained at Camp Sherman near Chillicothe, Ohio. The 317th Engineers Regiment, 317th Engineers Train and the 325th Field Signal Battalion would join the 92nd Division in France. The 813th Pioneer Infantry regiment would end up with the U.S. Second Army in France in 1918.
Sergeant Henry Johnson
While fighting in Europe, most units were confined to support roles behind the lines. An exception was the 369th Infantry Regiment, which spent longer in combat (191 days in frontline trenches) and suffered more casualties (1,500) than any other Black U.S. regiment in the war. When assigned to a French division, the 369th fought so tenaciously that the Germans called them Hell-fighters — a label expanded to Harlem Hell-fighters, since many of them came from New York City. Sergeant Henry Johnson was one of the many U.S. Army soldiers who performed heroically in this unit. On May 14, 1918, Johnson fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat, killing multiple soldiers and rescuing fellow soldiers while experiencing 21 wounds. He was the first U.S soldier to receive the Croix de Guerre, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross and Medal of Honor.
We also share the story of Medal of Honor recipient, Corporal Freddie Stowers, who served with the 371st Infantry Regiment.
Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the achievements, sacrifices and contributions made by African Americans. We recognize the fortitude and resilience Veterans of color have demonstrated during their military service and the military values they continue to uphold even in the face of obstacles and challenges. This month and every month, we honor them for their service and thank them for our freedoms.