Special to GUIDON
Each February, during Black History Month, the nation remembers the important contributions African-Americans have made throughout U.S. history.
The National Guard’s history is also replete with examples of African-Americans who served with distinction. A notable example existed within the three National Guard regiments that fought in World War I under the U.S. Army’s 93rd Division: the 369th, 370th and 372nd Infantry Regiments.
Although organized as an all-black division for the war, these regiments did not fight as one. Instead, each was assigned to French divisions, as the French were requesting the immediate use of American divisions to reinforce the French army. Each of the regiments took part in major combat operations and received battlefield accolades for their service with the French army.
Probably one of the most famous American units to emerge from World War I was the 369th Infantry, or “Harlem Hellfighters.”
Organized in the summer of 1916 as a result of state legislation authorizing the formation of a black National Guard regiment, the 15th Infantry, New York National Guard, was called into federal service in July 1917 and ordered to France. After three attempts crossing the Atlantic, the 15th landed in France in December 1917 and discovered it had been re-designated as the 369th Infantry Regiment. After being attached to the French army for training, it was assigned to the 161st Infantry Division of the French army.
The regiment took part in major operations in the Champagne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne and Alsace campaigns — campaigns where front lines were retaken or German attacks were thwarted.
Overall, the regiment spent 191 days on the front-line trenches. For its actions, the 369th was cited 11 times for bravery and was decorated with the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star for service during the Meuse-Argonne campaign.
In addition to having the unique distinction of receiving three nicknames: “Harlem Hellfighters,” “Men of Bronze,” and the “Black Watch,” the 369th’s regimental band was well known throughout Europe for its concerts and is credited with introducing American jazz to Europe.
Since World War I, the 369th underwent several reorganizations and is known today as New York National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 369th Sustainment Brigade.
(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the National Guard’s website.)