Congressman Morgan Griffith’s (9th District) latest newsletter is a moving tribute to the Unknown Soldier of World War I.
Having just experienced a campaign during which our new governor expressed outrage that school children might be exposed to our nation’s racist history, we should remember not just the Unknown Soldier but also an entire regiment about which few Americans know anything. That would be the 369th infantry regiment also known as the Harlem Hellfighters. This was a Black regiment in a segregated U.S. Army. It was also the unit that spent more time in combat than any other in the American Army during World War I.
Hellfighters was the name bestowed upon them by their German adversaries. The French, with whom the Hellfighters fought, awarded the entire regiment the Croix de Guerre, which is their equivalent of the Medal of Honor. It took decades, though, for the American government to recognize the Hellfighters with Medals of Honor.
At the war’s end, the Hellfighters came home to racism and even lynching. Black veterans were shot, hung and burned alive by white mobs. Leroy Johnston, who served with the Hellfighters, survived being severely wounded at the Battle of Chateau-Thierry only to be pulled from a train with his three brothers and shot by a white mob.
This is a story our children need to be told.