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HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS AT LAST GET THEIR DUE


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Today, President Biden signed into law H.R. 3642, the “Harlem Hellfighters Congressional Gold Medal Act,” giving the Congressional Gold Medal to the 369th Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” in recognition of their bravery and outstanding service during World War I. 

In that war, the 369th Infantry was made up of 2000 Black men, 70% of whom were from Harlem. Since many white men in Jim Crow America refused to serve with their Black comrades, army leaders assigned the unit to the French Army, where, although they still wore the U.S. uniform, they were outfitted with French weapons. 

Sent into the field, they stayed out for 191 days, the longest combat deployment of any unit in the war. At the Second Battle of the Marne and Meuse-Argonne, the unit had some of the worst casualties of that mangling war, suffering 144 dead and about 1,000 wounded. “My men never retire, they go forward or they die,” said their commander, Colonel William Hayward. Germans called them the “Bloodthirsty Black Men.” The French called them “hell-fighters.” A month after the armistice, the French government awarded the entire 369th the Croix de Guerre. 

And now, in 2021, the unit has, at long last, been awarded a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.

Sometimes it takes a while, but accurate history has a way of coming out.

 

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I saw this on TV earlier in the week.  Interestingly, the Hellfighters also wore the French Adrian helmets during most of the war which gave them a distinctive appearance.  There is a nice exhibit on these troops in the WWI Museum in Kansas City.  

 

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