Throwback Thursday: WWI's "Harlem Hellfighters"

These unsung heroes of the trenches overcame segregationist policies and racist attitudes ... and everything the Germans threw at them.

by
posted on September 21, 2023

The French called them hommes de bronze, or "bronze men." The Germans called them Höllenkämpfer, or "Hellfighters." From friend to foe, the Allied European forces of World War I treated the New York National Guard’s 369th Infantry Regiment with respect and awe. They fought with a unique ferocity, bravery and heroism--despite the fact that in America, they were treated as second-class citizens. That's because the men of the 369th weren't just fighting for American interests abroad; they were fighting for the rights they deserved back home in Harlem ... and they fought like Hell.

One such member of the 369th was William Henry Johnson. Defending the Argonne Forest from within an Allied trench, he and his regiment were surprised by a massive German trench raid. As the Boche sought to overwhelm the Harlem Hellfighters, Johnson fought back. He fought with grenades, his rifle's buttstock, a bolo knife ... and finally, his fists. He received 21 wounds, but not before putting 24 German troops permanently out of commission.

In this terrific episode of American Rifleman TV, "Over There! Part 6: Soldiers, But Not Equal," you'll thrill and mourn to the heroism and nobility of the regiment that fought like Hell for a reward that wouldn't be paid to them, but to their kids and grandkids. This is the story of the Harlem Hellfighters.

 

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