New York City parade honors World War I veterans

New York City parade honors World War I veterans


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On September 10, 1919, almost one year after an armistice officially ended the First World War, New York City holds a parade to welcome home General John J. Pershing, commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), and some 25,000 soldiers who had served in the AEF’s 1st Division on the Western Front.

The United States, which maintained its neutrality when World War I broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914, declared war on Germany in April 1917. Though the U.S. was initially able to muster only about 100,000 men to send to France under Pershing’s command that summer, President Woodrow Wilson swiftly adopted a policy of conscription. By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, more than 2 million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and some 50,000 of them had lost their lives. Demobilization began in late 1918; by September 1919 the last combat divisions had left France, though an occupation force of 16,000 U.S. soldiers remained until 1923, based in the town of Coblenz, Germany, as part of the post-war Allied presence in the Rhine Valley determined by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

Before the AEF’s combat units left service, the U.S. War Department gave citizens the chance to honor their troops. “New York lived yesterday probably the last chapter in its history of great military spectacles growing out of the war,” trumpeted The New York Times of the parade that took place September 10, 1919. According to the paper, an enthusiastic crowd turned out to cheer the 25,000 members of the 1st Division, who filed down Fifth Avenue from 107th Street to Washington Square in Greenwich Village, wearing trench helmets and full combat equipment.

The Times report continued: “It was the town’s first opportunity to greet the men of the 1st Division, and to let them know it remembered their glorious part in the American Army’s smashing drives at Toul, at Cantigny, at Soissons, at St. Mihiel, and at the Meuse and the Argonne.” The loudest cheers were for Pershing himself, who “was kept at almost continual salute by the tributes volleyed at him from both sides of the avenue.”

Pershing led a similar parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. on September 17; two days later, he addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress, which that same month created a new rank for him—”General of the Armies,” a rank only he has held—making him the highest-ranking military figure in the country. During his tenure as chief of staff of the U.S. Army, from 1921 to 1924, Pershing completely reorganized the structure of the army, combining the regular army, the National Guard, and the permanent army reserves into one organization. Upon his retirement, he headed up a commission supervising the construction of American war memorials in France. Pershing died in 1948.


New York City parade honors World War I veterans

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On September 10, 1919, New York City welcomed home General John J. Pershing and 25,000 WWI soldiers. From the article:

"New York City parade honors World War I veterans
On September 10, 1919, almost one year after an armistice officially ended the First World War, New York City holds a parade to welcome home General John J. Pershing, commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), and some 25,000 soldiers who had served in the AEF’s 1st Division on the Western Front.

The United States, which maintained its neutrality when World War I broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914, declared war on Germany in April 1917. Though the U.S. was initially able to muster only about 100,000 men to send to France under Pershing’s command that summer, President Woodrow Wilson swiftly adopted a policy of conscription. By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, more than 2 million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and some 50,000 of them had lost their lives. Demobilization began in late 1918 by September 1919 the last combat divisions had left France, though an occupation force of 16,000 U.S. soldiers remained until 1923, based in the town of Coblenz, Germany, as part of the post-war Allied presence in the Rhine Valley determined by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

Before the AEF’s combat units left service, the U.S. War Department gave citizens the chance to honor their troops. “New York lived yesterday probably the last chapter in its history of great military spectacles growing out of the war,” trumpeted The New York Times of the parade that took place September 10, 1914. According to the paper, an enthusiastic crowd turned out to cheer the 25,000 members of the 1st Division, who filed down Fifth Avenue from 107th Street to Washington Square in Greenwich Village, wearing trench helmets and full combat equipment.

The Times report continued: “It was the town’s first opportunity to greet the men of the 1st Division, and to let them know it remembered their glorious part in the American Army’s smashing drives at Toul, at Cantigny, at Soissons, at St. Mihiel, and at the Meuse and the Argonne.” The loudest cheers were for Pershing himself, who “was kept at almost continual salute by the tributes volleyed at him from both sides of the avenue.”


BARRY LEWIS: We honor those who died with solemn ceremony

Originally called Decoration Day, what we now call Memorial Day is a 153-year-old observance that began by recognizing the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. Americans from the North and South would decorate the graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War.

After World War I the holiday was broadened to include service members who died in all of the country&rsquos wars. New York was the first state to recognize the holiday.

That&rsquos what you find in textbooks.

What the holiday has really become is a day off from school, a day off from work and the chance for merchants to push deck furniture, pool floats and air fryers.

Look, if the weather&rsquos nice, I&rsquoll grill. Mow the grass. Maybe watch a game. Treat myself to some ice cream. Enjoy the day.

And I won&rsquot forget why I&rsquom off.

I think that&rsquos where some well-meaning townsfolk get a bit overzealous in planning pomp on this national holiday.

For some reason it&rsquos not enough for them to ask others to remember, observe and pay tribute.

Veterans I talk to say they love marching on Veterans Day. Strike up the band. Bring out the fire trucks. Honor the soldiers.

But on Memorial Day &mdash they say take it down a notch.

A wreath-laying ceremony at a veteran&rsquos memorial is a fine tribute. I plan to visit the Sullivan County Veterans Cemetery in Liberty to say hi to my dad, who served in the Army during the Korean War.

&ldquoIt&rsquos supposed to be solemn - where we honor the memories of men and women who died for their country,&rdquo is what Jack Simons told me years ago. Jack died in 2006 but there hasn&rsquot been a Memorial Day since that I don&rsquot think about his words to me. &ldquoWe celebrate on the Fourth of July. We pay tribute on Memorial Day.&rdquo

Simons received the Purple Heart and combat infantry medal after he was shot several times near the end of his two-year tour in Korea.

Back in the 1980s, he led a VFW protest of a planned parade down Broadway to Monticello Raceway.

&ldquoThey were talking clowns and balloons and a carnival at the track. We told the mayor, &lsquoThis isn&rsquot a day for chicken barbecues.&rsquo&rdquo

He got that celebration canceled, but decades later the thought of folks munching and marching still stuck in his craw. &ldquoHow can you have a festival for people who died?&rdquo

In the town where I live, there&rsquos no Memorial Day or Veterans Day parade.

On Monday, and again in November, at the 11th hour of the 11th day, folks will gather at the Rural Cemetery on Route 55 in Grahamsville for a flag exchange program.

A local family donates an American flag in memory of a loved one who had served their country. Their flag is hoisted in exchange for the flag from another family that also had a loved one in the service.

There&rsquos an honor guard of local veterans. Boy Scouts raise and lower the flags and present them back to the family. "Taps" is played.

Years ago, a teacher at Tri-Valley invited more than a dozen middle school students to attend the ceremony. It was a way to remind them why they didn&rsquot have school. Most knew it was because of Memorial Day.


How Did Armistice Day Become Veterans Day in the United States?

The holiday, which originally marked the end of World War I, was broadened in the 1950s to honor all veterans.

People celebrate Armistice Day in New York City on Nov. 11, 1918. Credit. Associated Press

On Nov. 11, 1918, the Allied nations and Germany signed an armistice ending the fighting in the Great War, which had killed more than 15 million people. A year later, King George V of England proclaimed that date Armistice Day, to be marked with two minutes of silence at 11 a.m., the hour the agreement had gone into effect.

“King Asks British to Pause Two Minutes on Armistice Day,” The New York Times wrote in a front-page headline on Nov. 7, 1919. Days later, the paper reported that Americans would be observing the day, too, with ceremonies around the country.

In a special message to the nation in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson noted the monumental changes that the fierce and bloody war had provoked. The European Allies fought for more than four years, and the Americans for more than a year and a half. None would ever be the same. The fighting had destroyed empires, transformed Europe’s borders, spurred advances in weaponry and manufacturing, and brought millions of women into the work force.

With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns we remodeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. … Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes.

The Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war, had been signed earlier that year, on June 28, 1919.

In 1953, Alvin J. King of Emporia, Kan., proposed changing the name of the holiday to Veterans Day, to recognize veterans from all wars and conflicts. According to a 2003 congressional resolution recognizing his efforts, the holiday was first celebrated in that small city, about 60 miles southwest of Topeka, the same year.

The resolution noted that while Mr. King was not a veteran himself, his stepson John Cooper, whom he had raised, was killed in combat during World War II.

The community raised money to send Mr. King and his wife, Gertrude, to Washington to meet with officials and push them to change the name of the federal holiday. They received crucial support from Representative Edward H. Rees, also of Emporia.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the change the following year. A 1968 law moved the observance of the holiday to the fourth Monday in October, but that was unpopular, and in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a law moving it back to Nov. 11. The law took effect in 1978.

Memorial Day, on the other hand, is observed on the last Monday in May. Whereas Veterans Day honors all veterans, Memorial Day specifically honors those who gave their lives for the United States.

British Commonwealth nations and some other European countries also mark the anniversary of the armistice with ceremonies on or around Remembrance Sunday. In London, a National Service of Remembrance is held each year at the Cenotaph, a war memorial, and bright red paper poppies are worn as a symbol of support for the armed forces.

In the bombed-out countryside of Western Europe after World War I, Flanders poppies, which were resilient enough to grow amid the destruction, became potent symbols. A Canadian doctor, Lt. Col. John McCrae, described them in the poem “In Flanders Fields.”

The Royal British Legion, a charity founded in 1921 that supports the armed forces, adopted the poppy as its emblem and set up a warehouse to employ disabled ex-servicemen to produce poppies. The tradition has endured, and public figures who have declined to wear the poppy have faced criticism. (There are also white poppies for pacifists, purple ones for animal lovers and, this year, apparently false reports of rainbow ones for supporters of L.G.B.T. rights.)

The organization’s American corollary, the American Legion, also uses the red poppy as its official flower, and has promoted the Friday before Memorial Day as National Poppy Day.


Veterans Day Parade Tries for a Comeback

Herbert W. Young, who is 109 years old, last marched in a Veterans Day parade in 1924. Tomorrow, he will do it again, using a cane.

"I'm proud to be a part of this," said Mr. Young, a Harlem resident, who was in the 807th Pioneer Infantry Corps.

In recent years, Veterans Day observations have become desultory at best, with spectators often limited to passers-by walking their dogs or heading out for a quart of milk. But Mr. Young, the lone World War I veteran volunteering to march, is part of an attempt to revitalize New York's Veterans Day parade.

Organizers are hoping for more than a million viewers, an ambitious and perhaps unattainable goal, considering that last year there were so few spectators that the police did not even estimate the crowd. By comparison, 1.5 million attended last year's St. Patrick's Day Parade, the city's biggest annual march.

But for tomorrow's 11:05 A.M. start, organizers have devised a more impressive lineup than last year's: General Patton's World War II command car, a Persian Gulf war tank 10 times heavier than a bull elephant, Walter Cronkite as the review-stand announcer and a B-1 bomber that will buzz Fifth Avenue from 2,500 feet.

There will be 40 marching bands, 20 floats and 30,000 marchers from groups from the Pearl Harbor Survivors to the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans. The guests of honor, 3,000 World War II veterans, will lead the parade from 48th Street to a reviewing stand at 59th Street. There they will remain as the parade goes on to 79th Street.

The Defense Department has designated the Fifth Avenue parade, called the Nation's Parade, the official close of the 50th anniversary of World War II.

To marshal limited resources for Manhattan's parade, organizers persuaded officials in each borough and the suburbs to forgo parades. In particular, Long Island towns, which have many veterans, are putting money and marchers into Manhattan's big one.

"This is a grand occasion to breathe life into what was once a very, very important day," Tom Fox, the parade's executive director, said. "It is more than a shopping day."

The fortunes of Veterans Day have risen and fallen since the remembrance began, as Armistice Day, immediately after World War I. But many veterans slipped into poverty during the Depression, and the celebration receded accordingly, said Bernard Wray, a retired Air Force colonel who is active in the United War Veterans of New York, a coalition of 55 groups representing 750,000 veterans, which is organizing Veterans Day events.

The holiday resurged again after World War II, only to fade as the veterans died, retired or moved. By the 1980's, fewer than 2,000 veterans were marching in the parades. Only in the last three years has participation grown again, as Vietnam veterans have become more active.

Nonetheless, from the beginning, this year's organizers have skated on thin financial ice, government approvals have been slow and lining up things like Sherman tanks and marching bands has been difficult. "There has been a constant awareness everything could fall apart at any time," Mr. Fox said.

Organizers received no contributions from the 200 corporations they asked, among them military contractors to whom they presented documentation of profits made on weapons used in World War II.

"Zippo, dada, zilch," Mr. Fox said. "Nothing from Northrup, United Technologies, none of them. To me, it's a sin."

By mid-August, organizers had a bank account of exactly $1.21. A request to airlines to donate blankets for aging veterans was turned down because logos might not be visible on television. Then Donald Trump, a nonveteran, agreed to throw in $200,000 as well as raise money from his friends, in exchange for being named grand marshal.

Since then, money has come in, though not enough to meet the original budget, which was reduced from $2.9 million to $2.4 million. Fireworks were just one of many cuts.

"This is the most complex parade I've been involved in, by far," said Joseph M. Haneman, the parade's director, who has organized more than 500 parades, including the city's most popular ones: the St. Patrick's Day and Puerto Rican Day Parades.

Organizers had to scurry this week to receive approval from the police for a 21-gun salute at Fifth Avenue and 60th Street to prepare a Hudson River berth for the Kearsarge, the aircraft carrier whose sailors helped rescue Capt. Scott O'Grady from Bosnia and who will be marching and, most important, to find ways to keep aging veterans comfortable.

Then they hunted down the trumpeter who played the original solo on "Stardust" so he could join the Glenn Miller Alumni Players, which will play at several events. They found him in San Diego. He will play his instrument sitting in the wheelchair he now uses.

Another obstacle was getting Federal Aviation Administration approval to allow the B-1 to zip above Fifth Avenue, and for the choreographing of aerial events. Five World War II aircraft will fly over the parade. The F.A.A. is also providing air-traffic controllers so Floyd Bennett Field, the World War II naval air station in Brooklyn, can be used for the takeoff and landing of historic aircraft.

In an unusual cooperation, officials of the Salute to Israel Parade, the Muslim World Day Parade, the India Day Parade and the Pakistan Parade, among others, will help keep floats and marchers moving smoothly.

Not all the battles have been won. A Sherman tank will not rumble up the avenue, because city officials feared it would damage the roads and water mains. "It's pure hogwash," said Frank Buck, a truck dealer from Bartonsville, Pa., who is bringing 10 antique military vehicles he owns, in addition to the tank, which will instead ride on a flatbed truck. He said that French officials let him drive the tank on cobblestones during the D-Day observance in France last year.

Earlier this week, Mr. Haneman seemed to be juggling a problem a minute as Veterans Day approached. When he received a fax of the design of the float that will carry the Glenn Miller Alumni Players, Mr. Haneman, a former band director, noticed a mistake.

"Looks good, except the musical notes are backward," he chortled to the float maker in New Jersey. "Why don't you give everybody a mirror and tell them to look at the float backward?"


New York City parade honors World War I veterans

TSgt Joe C.

On this day in 1919, almost one year after an armistice officially ended the First World War, New York City holds a parade to welcome home General John J. Pershing, commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), and some 25,000 soldiers who had served in the AEF’s 1st Division on the Western Front.

The United States, which maintained its neutrality when World War I broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914, declared war on Germany in April 1917. Though the U.S. was initially able to muster only about 100,000 men to send to France under Pershing’s command that summer, President Woodrow Wilson swiftly adopted a policy of conscription. By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, more than 2 million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and some 50,000 of them had lost their lives. Demobilization began in late 1918 by September 1919 the last combat divisions had left France, though an occupation force of 16,000 U.S. soldiers remained until 1923, based in the town of Coblenz, Germany, as part of the post-war Allied presence in the Rhine Valley determined by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

Before the AEF’s combat units left service, the U.S. War Department gave citizens the chance to honor their troops. “New York lived yesterday probably the last chapter in its history of great military spectacles growing out of the war,” trumpeted The New York Times of the parade that took place September 10, 1914. According to the paper, an enthusiastic crowd turned out to cheer the 25,000 members of the 1st Division, who filed down Fifth Avenue from 107th Street to Washington Square in Greenwich Village, wearing trench helmets and full combat equipment.

The Times report continued: “It was the town’s first opportunity to greet the men of the 1st Division, and to let them know it remembered their glorious part in the American Army’s smashing drives at Toul, at Cantigny, at Soissons, at St. Mihiel, and at the Meuse and the Argonne.” The loudest cheers were for Pershing himself, who “was kept at almost continual salute by the tributes volleyed at him from both sides of the avenue.”


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Medal of Honor at Last for Black WWI Veteran

After almost a century, Henry Johnson, nicknamed the ‘black death’ for his heroism in the Argonne, will be fully honored.

Jacob Siegel

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

Henry Johnson, all 5-feet-4 of him, was given the name “black death” for his valor in the Argonne forest during World War I. Cries of “Oh, you Black Death!” at a homecoming parade in Harlem greeted his return to the U.S. after the war. But Johnson’s legend quickly faded. He was too black to be an American hero and too crippled by war to hold his old job. He died in 1929, just over a decade after the war ended, destitute and unheralded.

Henry’s son, Herman Johnson, was raised by a great aunt and uncle. He knew his father only from occasional meetings in public parks and later visits to VA hospital rooms. After his father’s death, there wasn’t even a grave for Herman to visit.

As far as Herman knew, his father’s remains lay unmarked somewhere in a pauper’s field.

Until the past few decades there was no official award recognizing the man they called “Black Death.” Nothing in the government or military record books to preserve the legacy of a man Teddy Roosevelt had called one of the “five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I. So, in his later life, the younger Johnson fought, joined by senators and military veterans, to have the military award his father the commendations that he’d been denied during his short life. “Fighting for your country is an honor, but they would not give black people any honors,” Johnson said shortly before he died.

Both the Johnson men are dead now but Herman’s daughter, Tara Johnson, will be at the White House this week to see her father’s hopes realized.

On June 2, nearly a century after Henry Johnson made his legend fighting in Europe, President Obama will posthumously award him the Medal of Honor. Along with Johnson, the president will present the Medal of Honor to Army Sergeant William Shemin, a Jewish World War I veteran.

In the years that they have waited for this recognition, the Johnson family has kept up its tradition of military service. “Grandfather was World War I,” Tara Johnson said. “Dad was a Tuskegee Airman, my cousin Herman was a U.S. Marine, and my son DeMarqus was with the first Marines in Fallujah, Iraq.”

Her grandfather, Henry Johnson, left North Carolina in his teens and headed for Albany, N.Y., looking for steady work. After bouncing around as a laborer, he took a job as a Red Cap porter, one of the few positions at the time that promised some upward mobility to black Americans.

In 1917, the year President Woodrow Wilson entered the U.S. into World War I, Johnson joined the military. He volunteered in the 369th Infantry regiment, an all-black unit of the New York National Guard. For their first year of service the soldiers of the 369th were, at best, an afterthought for the Army. The men who would later take the name Harlem Hellfighters were subjected to racist abuse and assigned to perform “labor service duties” while white units received combat training.

It wasn’t until the 369th was transferred from the command of the segregated U.S. Army to the French army that its soldiers were sent into battle. Under the French, the 369th stayed under fire on the front lines for 191 straight days. That, and the high rate of casualties they sustained as a result, led prominent black intellectual and civil rights leader W.E.B. Dubois to accuse the French of using them as fodder.

Shortly after they were placed under French command, Johnson and the other Hellfighters were sent to man the French lines in northeastern France. In the early hours of May 14, 1918, Johnson and another soldier, Needham Roberts, were on guard duty when German snipers began firing on their outpost.

“There isn’t so much to tell,” Johnson told an interviewer in New York after the war when he described what happened next after the German snipers opened fire.

“…I began to get ready. They’d a box of hand grenades there and I took them out of the box and laid them all in a row where they would be handy… the snippin’ and clippin’ of the wires sounded near so I let go with a hand grenade. There was a yell from a lot of surprised Dutchmen and then they started firing. … A German grenade got Needham in the arm and through the hip. He was too badly wounded to do any fighting so I told him to lie in the trench and hand me up the grenades. Keep your nerve I told him. All the Dutchmen in the woods are at us but keep cool and we’ll lick ’em. … Some of the shots got me. One clipped my head, another my lip, another my hand, some in my side, and one smashed my left foot so bad that I have a silver plate holding it up now. The Germans came from all sides. Roberts kept handing me the grenades and I kept throwing them, and the Dutchmen kept squealing but jes’ the same, they kept comin’ on. When the grenades were all gone I started in with my rifle.”

Johnson was using the French rifle he’d been given after being placed under the French Army’s command. When he tried to load an American magazine, the French rifle jammed.

“There was nothing to do but use my rifle as a club and jump into them. I banged them on the dome and the side and everywhere I could land until the butt of my rifle busted. One of the Germans hollered, ‘Rush him, Rush him.’ I decided to do some rushing myself. I grabbed my French bolo knife and slashed in a million directions. … They knocked me around considerable and whanged me on the head, but I always managed to get back on my feet. There was one guy that bothered me. He climbed on my back and I had some job shaking him off and pitching him over my head. Then I stuck him in the ribs with the bolo. I stuck one guy in the stomach and he yelled in good New York talk: That black ——— got me. I was still banging them when my crowd came up and saved me and beat the Germans off.”

He concluded his account of the battle for which he is receiving the Medal of Honor: “That’s about all. There wasn’t so much to it.”

There was so little to it in the official record that despite some early accolades for his bravery, the U.S. military did nothing to formally recognize Johnson’s heroism. He was the first American to receive the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military honor. Yet, for his valor, Johnson had nothing to show from his own government, not even a Purple Heart for the serious wounds he sustained that kept him hospitalized for months. Because the army kept no record of Johnson’s injuries, he was ineligible for disability benefits after his discharge.

Five years after he returned from the war, Johnson, unable to work because of his injuries, separated from his wife. Alone, Johnson spent his last years in poverty and alcoholism before dying in 1929 at a veterans hospital.

Though his father didn’t raise him, Herman Johnson grew up aware of his legacy. The younger Johnson was as a Tuskegee Airman, and Ivy League graduate before becoming a successful businessman in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was also the president of the NAACP’s local chapter.

“He never really talked about his father until I was 25 or 26,” Tara Johnson said of the relationship between her father and grandfather, whom she never met. “I think it was just hard for him to talk about having to go to a park to visit him or having to go visit him in a VA hospital.”

It wasn’t until later in his life that Herman Johnson began working to restore his father’s legacy. “His way of honoring his dad was to make sure he had his rightful place in this country,” Tara Johnson said.

Johnson was joined in his effort by John Howe, a black Vietnam veteran from Albany, New York, and by the office of New York Senator Chuck Schumer.

The first recognition for Johnson came in 1996 when President Clinton awarded Johnson the Purple Heart for the injuries he suffered in combat. He’d gone to the grave with his wounds but the paperwork took another 80 years or so.

In 2002 researchers told Herman Johnson that his father, who he believed to be laying in an unmarked grave, had been buried at Arlington National Cemetery, but previously unidentified because the burial paperwork had used a variation on his name.

Shortly before Herman’s death, his father received the second-highest military award, the Distinguished Service Cross. The Medal of Honor submission had been denied citing insufficient evidence.

“Then a miracle happened,” Tara Johnson said. “Senator Schumer’s officer never gave up. His staff kept doing the research and they found the original evidence that would allow them to resubmit.”

The original evidence, discovered by Schumer staffer Caroline Wekselbaum, was a letter written by General John J. Pershing shortly after Johnson’s battle in the Argonne, commending his bravery, and additional citations from Johnson’s peers.

The Medal of Honor application was resubmitted with the new evidence and approved.

After this week’s White House ceremony, Tara Johnson will go back to splitting her time between her business in Kansas City and her family in Toledo, Ohio.

“DeMarqus is the real reason I’m not running my company in Kansas City,” she said. After his service in the Marines, her son “had his first PTSD episode in 2009,” Johnson said. “I’m trying to give him the opportunity that wasn’t offered to my grandfather. It’s a battle. He has more help than my grandfather did but I’m trying to give him the family support that I don’t think my grandfather had.”


The Harlem Hellfighters: The most storied Black combat unit of World War I

On the Western Front of World War I, death did not discriminate.

Artillery screaming towards the trenches treated men of all color the same. But the soldiers of the 92nd and 93rd divisions lived segregated lives both in and out of war.

These all-Black units, which served under mostly white officers, readily took up arms with their fellow Americans, hopeful that their patriotism and service would lead to better treatment at home.

In the end, the Harlem Hellfighters, as they were likely first dubbed by their German adversaries, spent more time in continuous combat than any other American unit of its size, with 191 days in the front-line trenches, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The unit also suffered 1,400 total casualties, more than any other American regiment. Many of those soldiers are buried or memorialized at American military cemeteries overseas managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC).

More than 350,000 African Americans served in the Great War. The majority were assigned to labor and stevedore battalions—digging ditches, building roads and supplying the front lines.

Throughout the course of WWI, only about one in 10 African Americans in the U.S. military served in a combat role based on leadership decisions at the time.

The 369th Infantry Regiment of the 93rd Division, formerly the 15th New York National Guard Regiment, was unique.

The 369th landed at Brest, France, in December of 1917.

In March of 1918, the regiment began training under French command due to their need for replacements.

Despite the expectation that this arrangement would be temporary, members of the 369th never served under American command during the war.

By summer, they were fighting in the Champagne-Marne Defensive and the Aisne-Marne Offensive.

It would be then that the Harlem Hellfighters would see grisly combat during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which began on Sept. 26, 1918.

As the 369th advanced, capturing towns and a key railroad junction, the losses mounted. In a matter of days, these advances cost the regiment 851 men, and shortly after they were relieved from the front lines.

In recognition of their bravery during the offensive, 171 officers and men received medals and the entire regiment received the Croix de Guerre from France.

The 369th returned to a huge victory parade in New York in February of 1919.

Thousands gathered along 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, outside the New York Public Library, welcoming home the brave soldiers. The division was even featured prominently on the cover of the Sunday New York Times.

But despite this celebration, little to nothing changed in their day-to-day lives. It would take another world war, and decades of civil rights activism before the hopes of these African American doughboys would start to be realized.

In fact, the inequalities experienced by these brave men are still being remedied today. Legislation passed by Congress in 2014 paved the way for Pvt. Henry Johnson, a Harlem Hellfighter with the 369th, to receive the Medal of Honor. And in 2020, the Army Center of Military History approved the official special designation of the Harlem Hellfighters.

There are 169 members of the 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, buried or memorialized at ABMC cemeteries. The majority are at Meuse-Argonne, but also at Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, St. Mihiel and Suresnes American cemeteries.

Among the more than 14,000 total American soldiers buried at Meuse-Argonne is Freddie Stowers, a member of the 93rd Division, 371st Infantry Regiment, and the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor from WWI.

As at all ABMC sites, the cemeteries are integrated. Race, rank, gender or creed had no determination on burial location and every day the fallen are remembered for their selfless sacrifice.


‘Over There!’

Of the 375,000 blacks who served in World War I, 200,000 shipped out overseas, but even in the theater of war, few saw combat. Most suffered through backbreaking labor in noncombat service units as part of the Services of Supply. Lentz-Smith puts the number of combat troops at 42,000, only 11 percent of all blacks in the army.

For the first of the two black combat divisions, the 92nd, the Great War was a nightmare. Not only were they segregated, their leaders scapegoated them for the American Expeditionary Forces’ failure at Meuse-Argonne in 1918, even though troops from both races struggled during the campaign. In the aftermath, five black officers were court-martialed on trumped-up charges, with white Major J. N. Merrill of the 368th’s First Battalion writing his superior officer, “Without my presence or that of any other white officer right on the firing line I am absolutely positive that not a single colored officer would have advanced with his men. The cowardice showed by the men was abject” (quoted in Williams, Torchbearers). Even though Secretary of War Newton Baker eventually commuted the officers’ sentences, the damage was done: The 92nd was off the line.

Read more of this blog post on The Root.

Fifty of the 100 Amazing Facts will be published on The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross website. Read all 100 Facts on The Root.


Watch the video: Μόσχα: Η εντυπωσιακή στρατιωτική παρέλαση στην Κόκκινη Πλατεία


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