Events at the National WWI Memorial will mark Pershing birthday
Special events at the National World War I Memorial in Washington, DC on Monday, September 13 will honor General of the Armies John “Blackjack” Pershing on the date of his 161st birthday.
At 5:00 p.m., Daily Taps will be played as usual by a bugler in World War I “Doughboy” uniform.
At 6:00 p.m. there will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the statue of General Pershing in honor of his birth on September 13, 1860 in Laclede, Missouri. After the wreath ceremony, “echoing taps” will be sounded in succession by three buglers in “Doughboy” uniforms.
At 6:30 p.m. at the Memorial (weather permitting), the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” will present a concert created to honor the legacy of General Pershing. The musical selections will focus on influential military music during WWI, as well as music that Pershing may have heard in France that inspired the creation of "Pershing's Own". The program features works by James Reese Europe (Gen. Pershing’s favorite band leader and composer), John Philip Sousa, Astor Piazzolla, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
The National World War I Memorial is located on Pennsylvania Ave. and 15th Street in Washington, DC.
National WWI Memorial, Washington, D.C. and WWI History Come to U.S. Schools this Fall Through New Technology
via the PR Newwire web site
The Doughboy Foundation is bringing the new National WWI Memorial from Washington, D.C. to schools and homes all over America with a new release of the award-winning Augmented Reality App called The WWI Memorial "Virtual Explorer".
The "Virtual Explorer" app brings a walk-around-inside-it digital 3D model of the National WWI Memorial to students and educators utilizing iOS or Android tablets, available in many K-12 schools, or the smartphone already in nearly every pocket.
Students, teachers, or anyone who cannot come to Washington, D.C. can take a virtual field trip to the National WWI Memorial. More than that, the WWI Memorial "Virtual Explorer" App is filled with interactive and experiential WWI history, including:
- The Timeline Tower: An interactive, 2-story tall 3D timeline featuring over 50 key events from WWI with images and short narratives organized up and down the tower in time order.
- The Sinking of the Lusitania: A video game-style presentation of this crucial event that was instrumental in drawing America into the global WWI conflict.
- Vehicles from WWI: Featuring interactive 3D models of breakthrough vehicles that came out of WWI including airplanes, tanks, motorized ambulances and even a 1917 Harley Davidson motorcycle.
- How WWI Changed America: More than 50 micro-documentaries (each under 2 minutes) in 9 categories featuring leading WWI historians. Social topics include the effect of WWI on Women, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, citizenship, propaganda, and even the 1918 flu pandemic.
- The Military History of WWI: A multi-part exploration of how America transformed from a standing army of less than 130,000 to a global military powerhouse with 4.7 million men and women in uniform, and 2 million soldiers deployed overseas in just 18 months – a timeframe comparable to today's Covid experience.
- Stories of Service: The tools and means to create research-projects about WWI veterans from the local community or families, which can be submitted INTO the App, resulting in an auto-narrated story and images that are shared nationally.
The WWI Memorial "Virtual Explorer" prototype received a 2021 Communicator Award for "Best Use of Augmented Reality" from the Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts. This new release builds and expands on that success.
Biden signs off on highest honor for Harlem Hellfighters
By Michael Gartland
via the New York Daily News newspaper web site
The tough-as-nails Black infantrymen that gave America’s enemies hell in World War I will be awarded Congress’s highest honor posthumously under a new law President Biden signed off on Wednesday.
The 369th Infantry Regiment, a New York National Guard unit known more commonly as the Harlem Hellfighters, will receive the Congressional Gold Medal under the law — more than 100 years after waging brutal trench warfare in Europe for 191 straight days.
The new law became a reality four months after the Daily News covered efforts to finally honored the warriors who sacrificed so much for the U.S., but who have received relatively little credit over the years.
The Hellfighters served alongside French soldiers when white Americans refused to. And they did so valiantly. The unit suffered more casualties than any other U.S. regiment during the war.
Private Henry Johnson, an Albany porter, earned the nickname “Black Death” after he and Private Needham Roberts, fought 36 Germans by themselves. After a German grenade wounded Roberts, Johnson fought with his rifle butt and a knife, killing four and wounding as many as 30.
The law Biden signed Wednesday originated from a Senate bill backed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and a companion bill in the House from Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan) and Tom Suozzi (D-Queens).
“The Harlem Hellfighters served our nation with distinction, spending 191 days in the front-line trenches, all while displaying the American values of courage, dedication and sacrifice,” Gillibrand said. “The long-overdue Harlem Hellfighters Congressional Gold Medal Act pays homage to these brave Black men who risked their lives overseas to defend our freedoms, only to come home to segregation and racism.”
Suozzi began to champion the Hellfighters’ cause after meeting one in person, Leander Willett, who sought his help in getting a posthumous Purple Heart awarded to the regiment’s sergeant, who was stabbed with a bayonet during battle.
A High Stakes Game of Cat and House: How America Hunted Submarines During WWI
By Sebastien Roblin
via The National Interest web site
When Congress voted on April 6, 1917, to declare war on Imperial Germany, the task before the U.S. Navy was clear: it needed to transport and supply over a million men across the Atlantic despite the Imperial German Navy’s ferocious U-Boat campaign, which reached its peak that month, sinking over 874,000 tons of shipping.
Indeed, Germany’s decision to recommence unrestricted submarine warfare in February was one of the decisive factors driving the United States, and later Brazil, into finally joining “the war to end all wars.”
While World War I submarines could only remain submerged for brief periods, they were highly successful at picking off unescorted merchants ship in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Neither active sonar nor radar yet existed with which to track submarines, though the British had begun using hydrophones to listen for the noise of a submarine’s diesel engine.
The most successful anti-submarine ships were agile “torpedo-boat destroyers,” which sank U-Boats using deck guns and even ramming. Starting in 1916, Royal Navy vessels carried depth charges designed to detonate underwater, rupturing a submarine’s hull. These proved effective if the ship captains could guess the sub’s position. Statistically, naval mines proved deadliest, accounting for one-third of U-Boat losses.
For years, the Royal Navy resisted instituting a convoy system to guard merchant ships, preferring not to divert warships from offensive missions and believing the decrease in throughput from adhering to a convoy schedule would prove worse than the losses inflicted by U-Boats.
But that April, U-Boats had sunk one-quarter of all merchant ships bound for the UK, leaving it with just six week’s grain supply. Threatened with economic collapse, the Royal Navy finally instituted the convoy system. But the Brits had a problem: they could divert only forty-three out of the seventy-five destroyers required to escort convoys.
Naval liaison Rear Admiral William Sims convinced the navy to dispatch thirty-five U.S. destroyers to bases at Queenstown (modern-day Cobh), Ireland to fill in the gap. These began escorting convoys on May 24, usually supported by navy cruisers. In 1918, an even larger escort flotilla began operating out of Brest, France.
The U.S. Navy itself began the war with only fifty-one destroyers. It immediately faced a classic military procurement problem: politicians and admirals wanted to build more expensive battleships and battlecruisers, construction of sixteen of which had been authorized by the Naval Act of 1916.
But the Royal Navy already had the German High Seas fleet effectively bottled up in port with its larger force. While five coal-burning and three oil-burning U.S. battleships did join the blockade in 1918, they never saw action. Common sense prevailed, and battleship construction was halted in favor of building 266 destroyers.
Rep. Cleaver Re-Introduces Bipartisan Bill Awarding Congressional Gold Medal to the “Hello Girls” of World War I
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO) announced the introduction of H.R. 4949, a bipartisan bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress—to over 220 American women who served as telephone operators with the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I. The “Hello Girls” were the first female soldiers to be deployed to a combat zone and were instrumental in the war effort in France throughout WWI. Their efforts to connect American and French forces on the front lines of battle by helping to translate and communicate command orders were an integral component to the eventual victory for the Allied Powers.
“I am once again proud to introduce this legislation to award the Hello Girls the Congressional Gold Medal—an honor that is long overdue and certainly fitting for these American heroes,” said Congressman Cleaver.
“During a period when the women of our nation weren’t afforded the right to vote, these patriots dropped everything to support our country in its time of need. Not only did they answer the call to service, but they also demonstrated the work ethic, proficiency, and selflessness needed to help the Allied Powers win the Great War. The pivotal role of the “Hello Girls” cannot be overlooked, which is why I am asking Congress to recognize their service with the highest honor awarded by this distinguished body.”
“In World War I, 223 heroic young women answered the call of General Pershing for volunteers. The “Hello Girls” as they were known had to be skilled, professional switchboard operators proficient in both French and English. These patriots dropped everything and shipped out to Europe and the frontlines where they quickly and accurately handled the millions of military communications that helped win the war.
"The “Hello Girls” were the first female soldiers deployed to a combat zone. They risked everything for their country, and many stayed behind to help complete demobilization before returning home where they were often overlooked. Clearly, the Centennial is the time that we remember their patriotism and sacrifice."
"The World War I Centennial Commission, created by Congress to make recommendations to Congress and the President, recommends the award of a Congressional Gold Medal to honor the service of the 'Hello Girls,'" said Terry Hamby, Chairman of the World War I Centennial Commission.
Formally known as the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators, the Hello Girls as they were nicknamed were recruited by General John J. Pershing in 1917 as the first group of women to hold non-medical positions in the U.S. Army. As telecommunication in battle was still relatively new at the time, General Pershing was looking for experienced individuals that could improve communication on the front lines.
With the telephone operator field dominated by women, General Pershing made the decision to form the specialized unit comprised solely of women. It was required that the women be bilingual in both French and English so that they could effectively communicate and coordinate with French and American forces.
By the end of the war, the Hello Girls had connected over 26 million calls in support of the war effort, and even continued to serve in Europe to organize the return of American forces following the armistice.
World War I Was Much More Than Trenches in France
via The National Interest web site
November 11, 2018—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—marked the centennial of the armistice concluding the First World War. Your humble correspondent traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to offer remarks as part of “1918: Crucible of Conflict,” the centennial symposium at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. After two days of listening to learned commentators hold forth about sundry dimensions of the war, the armistice, and the interregnum between the world wars, it’s clear the Great War still casts a long cultural shadow.
Bottom line: history matters. A partial or garbled understanding of history means any guidance we distill from it is partial or garbled as well.
Faulty guidance is a real prospect. Ask the man on the street what the war was about, and in all likelihood he’ll reply with something about trench warfare. Soldiers huddled in muddy, miserable trenches under constant artillery bombardment represent the dominant image of World War I. And that comprises a major part of the story for sure. But why does our cultural memory obsess over trench warfare in France? The obvious reason for Americans is because that’s where American doughboys fought from 1917–1918. That was our war.
We tend to stress the combined bomber offensive against Nazi Germany, the landings in North Africa, Italy, and Normandy, and other American spheres of endeavor in World War II while scanting the horrific and arguably decisive fighting between German and Soviet armies. In the same vein it’s natural to remember what our soldiers, sailors, and airmen did in the Great War. These were sons and daughters of America.
It also makes sense to concentrate on France because the West is where the guns of August rang out in 1914 and where the Great War ended in November 1918. The German Army’s “Schlieffen Plan“ sent legions careening through Belgium into France before the offensive stagnated under stiffer-than-expected French and British resistance. The static fighting that constitutes the lore of World War I ensued. During the spring of 1918 the German Army launched a series of titanic offensives in hopes of breaking a French Army that verged on mutiny or driving the British Expeditionary Force into the sea before the United States could intervene in force. And France is where the Allies at last amassed enough combat power to puncture German lines at multiple points at the same time—letting them break through and compel Berlin to consent to the armistice we remember today. Beginnings and endings imprint themselves on the popular mind.
And then there’s the cultural dimension. France witnessed feats of heroism that helped forge the U.S. Army and Marine Corps into what they are today. Legendary figures such as General John J. Pershing made their names on the Western Front. Legendary figures from subsequent U.S. history—Harry S. Truman, George S. Patton, Douglas MacArthur—made their debuts as junior officers. At the Battle of Belleau Wood in May-June 1918, American soldiers and marines blunted a German spearhead aimed at Paris—and helped prepare the ground for the Allied counteroffensive and victory. “Retreat, hell! We just got here,” proclaimed one ornery marine when urged to retreat before the German onslaught. Try not pumping your fist at that show of bravado.
The Spot Where World War I Ended...in New Jersey
via the Atlas Obscura web site
Mere steps away from the Burger King in Bridgewater, NJ, you’ll notice a strangely landscaped, infrequently visited slice of history.
Though the Somerville Circle is traversed by thousands each day, few realize how close they are to the place where World War I officially ended in the United States, on July 2, 1921.
Though the conflict was over in 1918, the U.S. Senate voted against ratifying the Treaty of Versailles and joining the League of Nations in both 1919 and 1920. This meant the country remained enemies with Germany until the Knox-Porter Resolution was offered as an alternative to the treaty. With the president’s signature, the resolution would officially end America’s involvement in the Great War.
But President Warren G. Harding wasn’t in Washington to sign the papers. He was staying with his longtime friend, Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen of New Jersey. The papers were delivered to the Raritan country club, where Harding took a break from his game of golf to sign the resolution and officially end World War I.
Today, a plaque marks the spot where Harding signed the papers. It is framed by two eight-foot-tall stone pillars that are all that remains of the Frelinghuysen mansion. The senator and his family left the house when it became apparent that highway traffic would only increase, and the grand mansion burned to the ground in the ’50s. Accessing the plaque is difficult, as it requires stopping amid the busy traffic on Route 28, so this slice of history mostly gets passed over.
Read the entire article on the Atlas Obscura web site.
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The GI Bill: Legacy of the Doughboys—Part II, Hammering Out the Bill
By Jennifer D. Keene
via the Roads to the Great War web site
The Legion had some dramatic moments after ignoring advice that it chop up its GI Bill into more manageable chunks, rather than continue to press for a complete benefits package. In March, at the request of five smaller veterans' organizations, several congressmen introduced an adjusted compensation bill in lieu of the GI Bill of Rights. With this division in veterans' ranks threatening to confuse the nation over which path to pursue, the Legion rallied its members to make their wishes known. Behind-the-scenes negotiations brought the VFW into line behind the Legion bill. The Legion worked diligently to organize a grass-roots campaign and prepared promotional materials for its 12,000 posts to use in rallying local support. Posts received suggested radio interviews, press releases, and letters and telegrams for congressmen, as well as short trailer films for legionnaires to take to the local movie theater.
The earlier decision of the Hearst newspaper chain to support the bill as a way to highlight the shortcomings of the Roosevelt administration's social welfare programs also helped influence public opinion in favor of the proposal. Inside the Legion command center in Washington, members mounted a huge wall chart to portray the results of their daily canvas of Congress and the work of the 149 House members who belonged to the Legion. On 10 May, in a well-publicized ceremony on the steps of the Capitol, Legion officials delivered petitions bearing a million signatures to the House leadership.
Congressman John Rankin (D-Miss.), a legionnaire, who chaired the House World War Veterans' Legislation Committee, provided the most gripping, nail-biting moments. The Senate passed an omnibus bill on 24 March, but the House version remained mired in Rankin's committee until 3 May. In April, the Mississippi congressman focused his objections on the bill's unemployment provisions. In public hearings, he recalled the "goldbrickers" he had known during World War I who would have relished a chance to loaf at government expense. Privately, Legion officials noted that, in executive sessions, Rankin was "using the line that it will result in too high remuneration without work for Negro veterans in the South." Rankin also wondered aloud whether adjusted compensation better served former farmers from the South and West who had no intention of attending college. Throughout this period, the Legion worked hard writing compromise drafts to appease Rankin. The draft of the bill finally reported out of Rankin's committee on 3 May limited educational and employment benefits and raised the maximum loan amount. The version that passed the House 387-0 on 18 May sharpened these modifications.
In the joint Senate-House Conference Committee created to hammer out differences between the two omnibus bills, compromise came quickly on education and loan benefits. Deadlock soon developed, however, over a relatively minor issue: whether or not the VA should have supervisory or administrative responsibility over the Veterans' Employment Service. With the final conference committee vote set for the morning of 10 June 1944, Rankin refused to cast the proxy vote of an absent member in favor of supervisory responsibility. Legion officials raced to track down Congressman John S. Gibson, a Democrat who had returned to Georgia. Those enlisted in the search included a telephone operator, who rang his house every fifteen minutes, a local radio station, which put out a news alert for Gibson to call home, and the state police, who went on the lookout for his car. Returning home late in the evening after spending the day hunting, Gibson agreed to take an army flight back to Washington from nearby Waycross air base. This plan fell through when the only available plane succumbed to mechanical problems, but the officer in charge provided a car to a commercial air field in Jacksonville, Florida. After boarding a 2:20 A.M. flight to Washington, Gibson arrived in time to cast the key vote. In the final version of the bill, a board chaired by the administrator of Veterans' Affairs was established to monitor veterans' job placement by the U.S. Employment Service.
The Missing Page of Ellen N. La Motte’s The Backwash of War
By Cynthia Wachtell
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
It was late in my process of researching Ellen N. La Motte’s extraordinary wartime book,The Backwash of War, that I made a fascinating discovery about its contents. Or, more accurately, I made a fascinating discovery about what is absent from its contents. I realized a key page is missing. And that missing page speaks volumes.
Let me back up a bit. I first came across The Backwash of War: The Human Wreckage of the Battlefield as Witnessed by an American Hospital Nurse when I was working in the mid-1990s on my dissertation, a study of American antiwar literature. Published in September 1916, The Backwash of War is a collection of stories about La Motte’s experience nursing at a French field hospital in Belgium, which was located terrifyingly close to the battlefront. Brilliantly observed and darkly humorous, the stories anticipate, and likely influenced, the works of Ernest Hemingway and other postwar writers.
The first story, ironically titled “Heroes,” bluntly begins, “When he could stand it no longer, he fired a revolver up through the roof of his mouth, but he made a mess of it. The ball tore out his left eye, and then lodged somewhere under his skull, so they bundled him into an ambulance and carried him, cursing and screaming, to the nearest field hospital.” In “Heroes” and a dozen other stories, La Motte deftly defied all norms of decorous wartime writing, exposing war’s unseemly underbelly, its backwash of mangled, miserable men writhing in agony and a hospital staff unable to staunch the mass bleeding of modern war.
When I first read The Backwash of War as a graduate student, I was amazed that such a radical and brilliant wartime book was written by an American woman and published before the United States had even entered the fray. And I was dismayed that it had been all but lost to history. Immediately upon its publication, the book had been banned in England and France. In America, by contrast, it had gone through four printings and been widely praised as a seminal war work. In the words of the Los Angeles Times it revealed the “first realistic glimpse behind the battle lines.”
But then in September 1918 the book was deemed dangerous to wartime morale, and censored. Despite being re-released in 1919 and appearing in a new edition in 1934, it disappeared into literary obscurity.
That fact nagged at me, and it continued to nag at me long after I submitted my dissertation. So, it was that some twenty-five years later I was in the process of trying to bring this lost antiwar classic to light in an expanded volume, which would include La Motte’s published war essays as well as my exhaustively researched biography of La Motte. She was, I had discovered, a boldly non-conformist woman in many regards: a self-proclaimed socialist and anarchist, a path-breaking public health administrator and expert in the field of tuberculosis, a prominent suffragist, a lesbian openly partnered for decades, and America’s most dedicated and prolific anti-opium activist of her day.
It was then, as I painstakingly pored over my original edition of The Backwash of War from 1916, with its olive green cover and gold lettering, that I noticed the missing pages. I realized that two pages had been physically cut out of the volume, one directly preceding the title page and one directly following the title page. All that remained of each was a very narrow stub, with a sheared edge, near the inner hinge.
Nor was it simply my volume that had been altered in this way. Upon further research, I discovered that the copy that belonged to the avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, now housed in Yale University’s Beinecke Library, is also missing the two pages. So is the copy in the British Library, acquired when the book was finally released in England in 1919. The publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, had physically cut out the two pages from each volume. Why?
The GI Bill: Legacy of the Doughboys—Part I, WWI Lessons
By Jennifer D. Keene
via the Roads to the Great War web site
Why is World War I important in American history? Quite simply, the Great War generation played a critical role in constructing the modern U.S. Army, turning World War II soldiers into the most privileged veteran generation in American history, and determining what mass military service would mean for millions of American men throughout the 20th century . . .
The Servicemen's Readjustment Act (1944), commonly known as the GI Bill, is rightly celebrated for the renewal that unemployment, education, and housing loan benefits gave millions of World War II veterans. The law marked a poignant ending as well. The signing of the GI Bill two weeks after American troops landed on the Normandy beaches of France did not signal the end of their war. Instead, 1944 marked the symbolic exit of World War I veterans from the national political arena after more than 25 years in the public spotlight. The GI Bill is rarely remembered as the final legacy of World War I to the nation. Yet ignoring Great War veterans' authorship of the GI Bill results in an imperfect understanding of why the law took the form it did when it did. Line by line, the most comprehensive piece of social welfare legislation the United States has ever known, it illustrated in vivid detail the struggles World War I veterans had endured to give meaning to their social contract with the state. For the first and perhaps only time, wartime military service became a steppingstone to a better life. The final legacy of World War I created one of the most prosperous, advantaged generations in American history.
Once the United States had entered World War II, ensuring that history did not repeat itself became the primary objective both of the U.S. Army and of Great War veterans. To learn from its past experiences with conscripted civilians, the General Staff ordered a series of studies of the army's previous experience with black soldiers, courts-martial, relations between American and Allied soldiers, collecting soldiers' votes, desertions, and demobilization. Hoping to avoid the psychiatric breakdowns observed among shell-shocked soldiers during the Great War, the army at first tried to weed out (through induction center rejections or discharges) those who seemed predisposed to mental breakdowns. Eventually realizing that this practice created a way, so feared at the beginning of World War I, for malingerers to avoid military service, the army then reverted to the battlefield treatments used effectively 25 years earlier.
Picking up where the Morale Division had left off in 1919, the soldiers' opinion studies undertaken by Samuel Stouffer and his colleagues in the Research Branch of the Information and Education Division of the War Department provide some clues about how much influence civilian soldiers wielded within the new wartime army. The Stouffer studies were vastly more sophisticated than the rudimentary efforts of previous morale investigators, but their intent was the same. Hoping to perfect the collaboration between citizen-soldiers and the army, the Stouffer group provided commanders with detailed reports of soldiers' predilections, including discussions of how some army policies had inadvertently hurt morale. The Research Branch, for example, compiled an impressive amount of evidence that infantrymen felt their branch, which bore the brunt of actual fighting, had the lowest status of any combatant service branch. As a result, the chief of staff initiated a systematic campaign to improve the prestige of the infantry by raising their pay, awarding them distinctive medals, and publicizing the feats of infantrymen throughout the service. . .
Once again, the army hoped to secure veterans' postwar support for expanded defense funding, and this time, it used troop surveys to devise demobilization policies avoid to the mistakes made during World War I. The Research Branch surveyed 20,000 soldiers on the most equitable way to discharge wartime troops and discovered that they wanted the army to award points to each soldier that reflected his days in combat, time overseas, number of children, and length of service. This wartime research made it possible for President Roosevelt to claim that the point system was "based on the wishes of the soldiers themselves." The end of the Pacific war came sooner than expected, however, disrupting these carefully laid plans. The army was in the midst of preparing for a massive invasion of the Japanese islands when the dropping of two atomic bombs caused Japan to surrender. Scrambling to demobilize its wartime force quickly, the army soon abandoned the point system and instead released men when it no longer needed them. As in 1919, overseas soldiers were furious when their return home was delayed, and widespread protests broke out in the Pacific and Europe in 1946.
The smoldering resentment of officers' privileges and court-martial practices presented one final similarity between the two world wars. In 1946, the army and public conceded that the time for permanent reform had arrived. Many of the reforms instituted by the 1946 Doolittle Board echoed proposals made after World War I by Raymond Fosdick, chairman of the Commission on Training Camp Activities.
Harlem Hellfighters, WWI Heroes, Win Long-Delayed Honor
By Nick Garber
via the msn.com news web site
HARLEM, NY — The Harlem Hellfighters, a majority-Black World War I regiment whose soldiers won plaudits for their bravery, have come a step closer to getting long-delayed recognition from the federal government.
The U.S. Senate on Monday passed the Harlem Hellfighters Congressional Gold Medal Act, a bill introduced by New York lawmakers that would award the medal to the Hellfighters. Having already passed the House in June, it now only needs President Joe Biden's signature to become official.
Descendants of the soldiers had gathered this spring at Harlems 369th Regiment Armory — constructed in the Hellfighters' honor — as U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi announced he was introducing a bill to honor the group.
"It is never too late to do the right thing," said Suozzi, a Long Island congressman who became interested in the Hellfighters after he was approached by neighbors whose ancestor, Sgt. Leander Willett, had been injured in France while serving with the regiment.
The Hellfighters, a segregated regiment composed mostly of Black and Puerto Rican troops, were deployed to France in 1917. They earned their nickname from their German foes, who were impressed by their enemies' bravery on the battlefield.
In 1918, the Hellfighters were assigned to serve with the French Army, rather than with their white countrymen who refused to serve with Black soldiers — a "decades-old injustice" that the Gold Medal would help correct, Suozzi said in April.
Congressional Gold Medal approved for WWI’s Harlem Hellfighters
By Steven Nelson
via the New York Post newspaper (NYC) web site
Congress on Monday agreed to award a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to the Harlem Hellfighters, a black New York National Guard unit that fought in World War I.
The medal is the highest US civilian award alongside the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has been awarded fewer than 200 times — most recently to police forces involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Although the men of the 369th Infantry Regiment are dead, the medal was sought by their descendants and pushed by New Yorkers who said the unit wasn’t sufficiently celebrated at the time.
Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) sponsored the bill, which passed the House in June and the Senate on Monday night.
The Hellfighters spent 191 days in the trenches of France before the war ended. About 1,400 of its men were killed or wounded, more than any other regiment, according to the congressional offices.
Although the war often is remembered as a struggle between European imperial powers, Gillibrand said in a statement that the New Yorkers fought to “defend our freedoms.”
“The Harlem Hellfighters Congressional Gold Medal Act honors these brave men, who, even as they faced segregation and prejudice, risked their lives to defend our freedoms,” Gillibrand said.
Giant clay soldiers charge into battle as D.C. memorial takes shape
By Michael E. Ruane
via the Washington Post newspaper (DC) web site
ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — The mammoth clay sculpture that included figures #13 and #14 weighed 300 pounds, and because of its weight, sculptor Sabin Howard called it “the monster.”
It depicted two American soldiers, one wounded, charging into battle during World War I. And it was going to require Howard and four other men to lift it off its metal stand, wrestle it about 20 feet to a display wall and fix it in place.
Howard was worried. It would be a disaster if it fell. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s just do it.” He positioned the men, and they loosened the piece from its stand. “Pull!” he said. It came free and they caught the weight. “It’s not bad.” he said, as they shuffled toward the wall. “I’m guiding it.”
It wasn’t elegant, but it was the latest chapter in the monumental project to create a 38-figure, 58.5-foot-long bronze sculpture for the new National World War I Memorial in Washington.
The work, underway in Howard’s studio here, just across the Hudson River from New York City, is a little over half completed. Eleven figures have been finished and cast in a foundry in Britain. Nine are being sculpted in clay now. There are 18 more to go.
The project will require many more months of labor, as well as 15 tons of bronze before it is done.
The sculpture, begun in 2019, is scheduled to be unveiled at the memorial on the site of Pershing Park, four blocks from the White House, on Memorial Day 2024.