Over a Century Later, Harlem Hellfighters to be Awarded Congressional Gold Medal

On Monday, August 9, Congress introduced the passage of a invoice that awards the Congressional Gold Medal — Congress’ highest civilian award — to the Harlem Hellfighters, one of the famend Black fight models throughout World Warfare I.

Extremely adorned, the 369th Infantry Regiment was initially nicknamed the “Black Rattlers” for the rattlesnake insignia that adorned their uniforms. The French known as the unit “Males of Bronze,” whereas it’s believed that they gained their “Hellfighter” nickname from their German foes owing to their braveness and ferocity in fight, in response to the Nationwide Museum of American Historical past and Tradition.

Shunned from combating alongside their fellow People, the Harlem Hellfighters realized learn how to survive the slog of trench warfare from the sixteenth Division of the French Military.

The all-Black unit spent 191 days in steady fight, greater than another American unit of its dimension. Throughout that point, about 1,400 troopers have been killed or wounded — struggling extra losses than another American regiment through the warfare.

In line with the invoice, the “369th by no means misplaced a foot of floor nor had a person taken prisoner, regardless of struggling a excessive variety of casualties.”

“After the warfare,” in response to the NMAHC, “the French authorities awarded the coveted Croix de Guerre medal to 171 members of the regiment, in addition to a Croix de Guerre quotation to the unit as a complete.” Amongst these males was Henry Johnson, whose bravery on Could 15, 1918, led to him being awarded posthumously in 2015 the Medal of Honor, the US’ highest navy honor.

Johnson suffered 21 accidents, together with bullet and stab wounds to his head, torso, proper arm and left leg, and his left foot had been shattered after repulsing an evening assault by a German raiding social gathering. It was later decided by observers that the soldier — partaking in hand-to-hand fight with a bolo knife — killed 4 of the enemy and wounded upwards of a dozen extra.

Of his feat, the self-effacing non-public later recalled, “there wasn’t something so tremendous about it. Simply fought for my life. A rabbit would have carried out that.”

Whereas the unit initially obtained a hero’s welcome at warfare’s finish, their fame shortly light right into a small coda of WWI historical past largely because of the nation’s virulent racism.

And whereas greater than a century has handed since their heroic deeds, Congress hopes to lastly give recognition the place it’s due.

“They fought in additional fight in WWI than another unit however the American white troopers wouldn’t struggle with them, they needed to struggle below France, this can be a lengthy overdue honor and so they deserve it and we should keep in mind that bigotry can’t be fostered within the navy or wherever else,” mentioned Senator Charles Schumer.

The invoice is now sitting on President Joe Biden’s desk and is predicted to be made official within the coming weeks.


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