African-American troops in World War 1 were used as menial labor by American military leaders, who feared integrating the services, while focusing on combat training for white “Doughboys". The French, however, were desperate for help and requested support from American forces. To avoid racial tension which had caused violence within American ranks, U.S. Gen. Pershing ceded command of U.S. mostly African-American 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly known as the 15th New York National Guard Regiment, to the French Army for the duration of the war. As such, the soldiers were issued French Army uniforms and weapons.
From 18 July to 6 August 1918, the Regiment fought tenaciously, helping the French drive the Germans from their trenches during the Aisne-Marne counter-offensive. Although the regiment was named the “Black Rattlers”, the nickname “Men of Bronze” was given to the regiment by the French, and “Hell-Fighters” was given to them by the Germans. Two U.S. Medals of Honor and many Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded members of the regiment, as well as over 170 Croix de Guerre decorations made by the government of France.
During World War 1, the 369th spent more time in front line trenches and suffered the most losses of any American regiment with 1,500 casualties. It was the first Allied unit to reach the banks of the River Rhine. #HonoringVets #ThisDayInHistory
Photos from NARA:
1. African-American troops, a part of the 15th Regt. Inf. N.Y. National Guard in France, dressed in french uniforms.
2. French military officials award members of the 369th for gallantry.
3. Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.), awarded the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. Left to right. Front row: Pvt. Ed Williams, Herbert Taylor, Pvt. Leon Fraitor, Pvt. Ralph Hawkins. Back Row: Sgt. H. D. Prinas, Sgt. Dan Storms, Pvt. Joe Williams, Pvt. Alfred Hanley, Cpl. T. W. Taylor