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Since colonial times, African-Americans have fought in America’s wars.  Every war, in fact. The first person to die in the Revolutionary war, Crispus Attucks, was black.  Black soldiers have put their lives on the line for a country that for centuries has enslaved, segregated, and discriminated against them.  Until the Korean War, blacks served in segregated units under racist leadership and were often relegated to labor and service units. Despite the continuous discriminatory treatment that denied blacks full participation in America’s wars and military efforts, these brave men and women lived lives that deserved to be remembered.  My name’s…   Possibly the best known all-black military unit comes with a bit of mystery in its history.  They were called Buffalo Soldiers, though there are competing reasons why. In 1866, an Act of Congress created six all-black peacetime regiments, later consolidated into four –– the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 24th and 25th Infantry.  Initially, the Buffalo Soldier regiments were commanded by whites, with blacks being forbidden from holding officer ranks. These troops often faced extreme racial prejudice from the Army establishment. Many officers, including George Armstrong Custer, a boo and a hiss, refused to command black regiments, even though it cost them promotions.  Further, black troops could only serve west of the Mississippi River, because many whites didn’t want to see armed black men near their communities. It even sometimes happened that the Buffalo Soldiers suffered deadly violence, at the hands of *civilians.   The Buffalo Soldiers’ main duty was to support the nation’s westward expansion by protecting settlers, building roads and other infrastructure, and guarding the U.S. mail. They served at a variety of posts in the Southwest and Great Plains, taking part in most of the military campaigns during the decades-long Indian Wars, during which they compiled a distinguished record, with 18 Buffalo Soldiers awarded the Medal of Honor.  We don’t have time today to dwell on the irony of African-American soldiers fighting native people on behalf of a government that accepted neither group as equals. This exceptional performance helped to overcome resistance to the idea of black Army officers, paving the way for the first African-American graduate from West Point Military Academy, Henry O. Flipper, who we’ll hear more about later.   Buffalo Soldiers played significant roles in many other military actions. They took part in defusing the little-known 1892 Johnson County War in Wyoming, which pitted small farmers against wealthy ranchers and a band of hired gunmen. They also fought in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, and played a key role in maintaining border security during the high-intensity military conflict along the U.S.-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution. In 1918, the 10th Cavalry fought at the Battle of Ambos Nogales, where they assisted in forcing the surrender of the Mexican federal and militia forces.   Discrimination played a role in diminishing the Buffalo Soldiers’ involvement in upcoming major U.S. conflicts. During World War I, the racist policies of President Woodrow Wilson, among whose claims to infamy includes segregating federal offices, led to black regiments being excluded from the American Expeditionary Force and placed under French command for the duration of the war –– the first time ever that American troops had been put under the command of a foreign power.  Then, prior to World War II, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were essentially disbanded, and most of their troops moved into service roles. However, the 92nd Infantry Division, known as the “Buffalo Division,” did see combat during the invasion of Italy, while another division that included the original Buffalo Soldier 25th Infantry Regiment fought in the Pacific theater. The last segregated U.S. Army regiments were disbanded in 1951 during the Korean War, and their soldiers were integrated into other units.  There was an episode of MASH about that, where a CO was sending his black soldiers on the most dangerous details in hopes of being rid of them. Bonus super-tangent fact: MASH ran nearly four times longer than the main fighting in the Korean conflict. I say main fighting because the conflict was paused, but not officially ended, until recently. Even with the show still in reruns, the Korean War is considered the forgotten war, since it’s the least remembered of America’s history.   Back on track; why were these troops called Buffalo Soldiers?  There are differing theories regarding the origin of this nickname. One is that the Plains Indians who fought the Buffalo Soldiers thought that their dark, curly hair resembled the fur of the buffalo. Another is that their bravery and ferocity in battle reminded the Indians of the way buffalo fought. Whatever the reason, the soldiers considered the name high praise, as buffalo were deeply respected by the Native peoples of the Great Plains. And eventually, the image of a buffalo became part of the 10th Cavalry’s regimental crest.   Five million Americans served their country in uniform during World War I, including 2 million deployed overseas. Nearly 117,000 Americans would make the ultimate sacrifice in a battle that would change the political, global, and social order of the U.S. and its allies – reasons why this war shouldn’t become a forgotten one.   More than 350,000 African-Americans served during World War I. Overcoming racial hostilities, these brave men demonstrated through their service, love of country, patriotism and the importance of equality. The paradox for African-Americans fighting on the front lines in France was clear; they defended America’s freedoms abroad while being denied those rights at home.  Although the Civil War ended 50 years before World War I began, racial discrimination was common throughout most of America. Jim Crow laws enforced a culture of segregation. African-Americans faced prejudice from their white counterparts in the service and in civilian communities near stateside military bases.   EUGENE JACQUES BULLARD may have been the 6,950th French military pilot to earn his wings during World War One, but he’s remembered as history’s very first African American aviator.  The 21-year-old volunteer graduated from flight training on May 5, 1917 after spending more than 12 harrowing months fighting in the French army on the Western Front. One of nearly 300 U.S. citizens to serve in France’s burgeoning air corps prior to America’s entry into the war, Bullard was eventually assigned to the famous Lafayette Flying Corps.  Although never earning the distinction of “ace”, Bullard still won many of his adopted country’s highest military decorations including the Légion d’honneur, the Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. Despite his acclaim in France, Bullard received virtually no recognition in America. Worse, after returning to the U.S. as a wounded combat veteran and an aviation trailblazer, he died penniless in obscurity.   In his teens, young Eugene, who was part Creek Indian, left behind a life of racial segregation and hopped a trans Atlantic steamer bound for Europe.  He eventually landed in Paris where he made a living as a prizefighter. Within weeks of Germany’s 1914 invasion of France, Bullard enlisted. Like other non-native volunteers, he was assigned to a French Foreign Legion regiment where he served with distinction as a machine gunner.  During 1915, his 23,000-man unit was decimated, suffering more than 50 percent casualties, and Eugene was transferred to the celebrated 170th Infantry Regiment and sent into battle at Verdun. Wounded in the opening weeks of the epic 10-month clash, Bullard was pulled from the line to recuperate.   In October of 1916, Bullard signed on with the French air service and began flight training.  By the following year he was piloting Spads and Nieuports with the 93rd Escadrille against German warplanes over the Verdun sector.  A capable aviator, Eugene quickly earned the nickname the “Black Swallow of Death” (an homage to his former regiment, the 170th known as Les Hirondelles de la Mort).  Heralded as one of the only black pilots of the war (and a decorated one at that), he enjoyed notoriety in the French press. Following America’s entry to the war, Bullard applied for a transfer to the nascent U.S. Army flying corps that was assembling in France.  Spoiler alert: the American military rejected him because of his race. Eugene continued to fly with the French air service, but was eventually returned to the infantry after striking a superior officer while on leave. He served out the war in the rear echelon with his old unit, the 170th.   Following the Armistice, Bullard worked as a jazz drummer and owned his own bar, named L’Escadrille in reference to his wartime flying.  Jazz legends and celebrities alike frequented the club. In the 1920s, Bullard married into a wealthy French family and had two children. The marriage ended in 1935.  In 1939, Eugene offered his services to France again, this time recording the comings and goings of his nightclub’s German patrons. When Hitler’s Panzers rolled into France in May of 1940, the middle-aged Bullard joined the French Army in time to see action, but was grievously wounded in the defence of Orleans.  As the country fell to the Nazis, Bullard was evacuated to Spain and was eventually repatriated to the United States.   Still recovering from his injuries, Bullard scratched out a meagre living during the war as a perfume salesman and a night watchman.  Few in America knew, or cared about, his legendary exploits. When the war was over, the French government offered him compensation for his lost business and injuries but remained in New York with his children.  In 1949, Bullard was one of more than a dozen people attacked by a mob at Peekskill, New York while waiting to get into a concert. The 54-year-old war hero being beaten by two policemen was even captured on film.  A few years later, Bullard briefly returned to France for the 40th anniversary of the First World War, where he received a hero’s welcome, was named to the Legion of Honour and was made a guest at a French military commemoration.  Back in New York, Bullard worked as an elevator operator in Manhattan. He died of stomach cancer in 1961 at the age of 66. *Eventually, his service was more properly acknowledged; the Air Force granted Bullard an honorary commission of 2nd Lieutenant.   While Eugene Bullard is remembered for being the first African American fighter pilot in history, he isn’t the first black combat aviator. That honour goes to the Ahmet Ali Celikten of the Ottoman air service. Born in 1883 at Izmir, Turkey to African parents, Ahmet joined the Turkish navy in 1904. Four years later, he went to the naval academy and was made an officer. In 1914, he enrolled in flight school and became a pilot in the Ottoman air corps in 1916 and a certified aviator before Bullard. Details of Celikten’s record as an combat flier are unclear.  The first black flier of the British Empire was likely the Jamaican born William Robinson Clarke, dubbed “the Pilot of the Caribbean” by the RAF. According to the Royal Aero Club Trust of the U.K., the 22-year-old aircraft mechanic turned aviator earned his wings sometime in April of 1917, predating Bullard’s May 5 pilot registration by at least five days. According to Jamaican sources, Clarke was just one of a handful of black pilots from the West Indies to serve in the British air force during the war.   When the African American National Guard Soldiers of New York’s 15th Infantry Regiment arrived in France in December 1917, they expected to conduct combat training and enter the trenches of the Western Front right away.  They could not have been more wrong. They were ordered to unload supply ships at the docks for their first months in France, joining the mass of supply troops known as stevedores, working long hours in the port at St. Nazaire.   More than 380,000 African Americans served in the Army during World War I, according to the National Archives. Approximately 200,000 of these were sent to Europe, but more than half of those who deployed were assigned to labor and stevedore battalions, assigned to tasks that many Army leaders saw as most appropriate, building roads, bridges, and trenches in support of the front-line battles.   In St. Nazaire, the New York National Guard Soldiers learned they would work to prepare the docks and rail lines to be a major port of entry for the hundreds of thousands of forces yet to arrive in France. According to the 2003 book, “Harlem’s Hell Fighters,” “First, Pershing would have a source of cheap labor. Second, he wouldn’t have to worry about what to do with black Soldiers, particularly when he might have to mix them in with white troops.”   “They had no place to put the regiment,” said infantry Capt. Hamilton Fish.  “They weren’t going to put us in a white division, not in 1917, anyway; so our troops were sent in to the supply and services as laborers to lay railroad tracks. This naturally upset our men tremendously.”   The regiment’s best advocate was their commander, Col. William Hayward.  Hayward argued his case in a letter to General Pershing, outlining the regiments’ mobilization and training, and followed up immediately with a personal visit to Pershing’s headquarters.  He would bring with him the regiment’s most formidable weapon in swaying opinion: the regimental band, lauded as one of the finest in the entire Expeditionary Force.   While the regiment literally laid the tracks for the arrival of the two million troops deploying to France, the regimental band toured the region, performing for French and American audiences at rest centers and hospitals. The 369th Band was unlike any other performance audiences had seen or heard before; the regimental band is credited with introducing jazz music to France during the war.   After some three months of labor constructing nearby railways to move supplies forward, the soldiers learned that they had orders to join the French 16th Division for three weeks of combat training.  They also learned they had a new regimental number as the now-renamed 369th Infantry Regiment. Not that it mattered much to them; they still carried their nickname from New York, the Black Rattlers. While the 369th Infantry would become part of the U.S. Army’s 92nd Infantry Division, it would be assigned to fight with French forces.  This solved the dilemma for Pershing and the American Expeditionary Forces of what to do with the African-American troops. The unit was effectively given to the French army. The black troops would see combat, but alongside French forces, who were already accustomed to the many races and ethnicities already serving in the ranks of their colonial troops, which is a tiny sliver of silver lining to emperialism.   The French army instructors welcomed their African American trainees as comrades in arms and were impressed by their training.  After learning valuable lessons in trench warfare from their French partners, the Soldiers of the 369th finally had their chance to prove their worth as combat troops when they entered the front lines, holding their line against the last German spring offensive near Chateau-Thierry.  Their value was not lost on the French, and the regiment continued to fight alongside French forces, participating in the Aisne-Marne counter offensive in the summer of 1918 alongside the French 162nd Infantry Division. The regiment would go on to prove itself in combat operations throughout the rest of the war, receiving the French highest honor, the Croix de Guerre, for its unit actions, alongside some 171 individual decorations for heroism.  The Hell Fighters from Harlem had come into their own, in spite of their difficult start.   Rather than a top ten list, let’s do a list of number ones.  On Oct. 25, 1940, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. became the first African American to serve as a general officer in the U.S. Army.  He entered the military service on July 18, 1898 during the war with Spain as a temporary first lieutenant of the 8th U.S. Volunteer Infantry.  He then served as a corporal and squadron sergeant major, and in 1901, he was commissioned a second lieutenant of Cavalry in the regular Army. Davis’ military decorations included the Bronze Star Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal “for exceptional meritorious service to the government in a duty of great responsibility from June 1941 to November 1944 as an inspector of troop units in the field, and as special War Department consultant on matters pertaining to Negro troops.”   Immediately following the Civil War, William Cathey enlisted in the U.S. Regular Army in St. Louis, Mo.  William was described by the recruiting officer as 5 feet 9 inches tall with black eyes, black hair, and a black complexion.  The cursory examination by an army physician missed the fact that William Cathey was actually Cathay William, an African-American woman.  Cathey served from Nov. 1866 until her discharge with a surgeon’s certificate of disability on Oct. 1868. Despite numerous and often lengthy hospital stays during her service, her sex was not revealed until June 1891, when she applied for a disability pension and disclosed her true identity.  She did not receive the pension, not because she was a woman, but because her disabilities were not service-related. Cathey William has been noted in military history journals as the only documented female Buffalo Soldier and as the only documented African-American woman who served in the U.S. Army prior to the 1948 law which officially allowed women to join the Army.   In 1877, Henry O. Flipper became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.  His assignment in July 1877 to the 10th U.S. Cavalry, one of two Black cavalry regiments organized after the Civil War, was the realization of a personal dream. Unfortunately, his dream was short-lived as he was wrongfully court-martialed and dishonorably discharged.  Assigned to the 10th Cavalry over Buffalo Soldiers, Lt. Flipper served at Forts Elliott, Concho, Quitman, Sill, and Davis, and he fought twice at Eagle Springs, Texas, during the Victorio campaign against the Apache Indians in 1880. In 1881, while stationed at Fort Davis, Texas, he was framed by white officers and charged with embezzlement. At his court-martial he was found not guilty of embezzlement, but guilty of “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” He was dishonorably discharged, and for the rest of his life he fought to restore his good name.  Following his death in 1940, Flipper’s descendants continued advocating to have his dishonorable discharge overturned, and in 1976, with the recognition of his mistreatment, he was finally granted an honorable discharge and a full pardon. West Point now gives an award in his honor to the graduating senior who has displayed “the highest qualities of leadership, self-discipline, and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties while a cadet.”   World War II brought out the best in America’s young people. Young African-American women like Margaret E. Bailey found it an opportunity to fight for their[ citizenship, their democracy, and their pride.???] By May 1943, 183 African-American nurses held commissions in the Army Nurse Corps. During World War II, African-American nurses served in all theaters of the war including Africa, Burma, Australia, and England.  At the conclusion of World War II, about 600 African-American nurses had served. One of these nurses, Margaret E. Bailey, accepted a commission in June 1944. On July of ‘64, Bailey became the first African American promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Army Nurse Corps and in 1970, she was promoted to full colonel. Throughout her 27-year career in the Army, Col. Margaret E. Bailey advocated for the integration of all military housing, working environments, and recreational facilities. Following her retirement, Bailey became a consultant to the surgeon general to promote increased participation by minority group members in the Army Nurse Corps.   In 1947, Roscoe Robinson Jr. attended St Louis University for only a year before he transferred to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  He graduated with a degree in military engineering in 1951. During the next 34 years, he would become a distinguished combat commander and the first African American to become a four-star general.  He served in the Korean War in 1952 as a platoon leader and rifle company commander, and received the Bronze Star. After returning to the United States a year later, he became an instructor in the Airborne Department of the U.S. Army Infantry School. In 1967 he served as battalion commander in Vietnam and there he received the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, 11 Air Medals, and two Silver Stars.  He was promoted to brigadier general and in 1975 became commanding general of the U.S. Army Garrison, Okinawa. He also commanded the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. His final assignment was as U.S. military representative to the NATO Military Committee. He was then awarded with the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and two Distinguished Service Medals. After his retirement, he was asked to oversee a panel tasked to examine the Korean War performance of some African-American Army units that had been highly criticized.   When Hazel Johnson, an operating room nurse who graduated from the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing, joined the Army in 1955, she thought it would be an opportunity that would allow her to explore the world and hone her nursing skills.  She had no idea she would become the first African-American female general officer and the first African American appointed as chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Timing had much to do with Johnson’s success in the military as she entered the Army shortly after President Harry Truman banned segregation and discrimination in the armed services.  Johnson was rewarded with a number of promotions and posts of responsibility during her service in the Army. She was also afforded educational opportunities in the Army and she would earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Villanova University, a master’s degree in nursing education from Columbia University, and a Ph.D in education administration from Catholic University.  As chief of the Army Nurse Corps, Gen. Johnson commanded 7,000 male and female nurses, including those in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. She also set policy and oversaw operations in eight Army medical centers, 56 community hospitals, and 143 free-standing clinics in the United States, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, and Panama. The list of awards and recognition throughout her military career includes: the 1972 U.S. Army Nurse of the Year, honorary doctorates from Villanova University, Morgan State University, University of Maryland, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster. Her responsibilities left little time to pursue other avenues of life, including marriage. However, two years before retiring from the Army, Johnson married David Brown, and the 16th chief of the Army Nurse Corps became Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown.”   And that’s where we run out of ideas, at least for today.  There are of course more stories of African-Americans who served their country than I could hope to recount.  Like Lemuel Haynes, who served as a minuteman during the American Revolution after gaining his freedom from indentured servitude.  Or Maj. Martin Robison Delany, the first African-American field officer in the U.S. Army; he was accepted at Harvard Medical School but was kicked out after three weeks when white students petitioned for his removal.  Or Pfc. Milton Olive III, who was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor for saving the lives of four other soldiers during the Vietnam War when he threw himself on a grenade to save his comrades. May their stories never be forgotten.  Thanks…     Sources: