The Harlem Hellfighters

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1921 establishment of the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. On Friday, we will honor all veterans on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a date commemorating the cessation of World War I hostilities in 1918.

And it was in World War I that the Harlem Hellfighters, the 369th Infantry Regiment from the Harlem section of New York, rose to fame.

In 1917, at the height of WWI, the U.S. passed the Selective Service Act, which required all men ages 21 to 30, including black men, to register for the draft. But the 369th had its origin much earlier as New York’s 15th Regiment, formed in 1864, notably to quell rebellions in New York by those rioting against the Civil War draft. It was redesignated the 369th in early 1918 when assigned to fight with the French. Despite the segregation and discrimination that the unit experienced in New York, it was accepted as an equally qualified regiment by the French, whose forces included many non-white colonial units.

The unit served 191 days in trench warfare combat, the longest combat deployment of any American unit, and suffered heavy losses in the American drive in the Meuse-Argonne in September of 2018, six weeks before the 11-11-11 Armistice.

Among the most celebrated of the Hellfighters was PVT Henry “Black Death” Johnson, who suffered more than 20 injuries while refusing to give ground against the Germans. He was the first American to receive the French Croix de Guerre for gallantry and would posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor. (You can read his citation here.)

The 369th Infantry Regiment was the first New York unit to return home and the first unit to march from Washington Square Park Arch up Fifth Avenue to their Harlem armory. 

About Kevin

Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-UPI, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Trustee RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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