Harlem Hellfighters - Black Soldiers from America Incorporated into the French Army in World War I.
From America they came, these men- ready to serve. These American men served in an army that did not want them, but they served, fought and even died. Known as the Harlem Hell fighters, these men marched under an American flag, but wore French uniforms and used French arms. Their contribution was noted and they were later honored in a monument to their bravery and history.
From my own family history comes my own soldier who was a hero of World War I. My grandfather was Pvt. Samuel Walton who was drafted into the army from his native Oklahoma. He served in the 809th Pioneer Infantry. One of the only photos that I would ever have of my grandfather was the one taken of him in uniform
Pvt. Samuel Walton, 809th Pioneer Infantry
As I watch the film on the Harlem Hellfighters, I wonder if he ever saw them, and ever met them. I would like to think that he did. I know that one of his best friends was his bunk mate, Seles Bates, from New York.
Pvt Seles Bates, New York, New York
Did Pvt. Bates have other friends from Harlem who served? Did he know some of the Harlem Hellfighters personally? I hope that he did. He lived in New York and lived in Harlem.
I know that many soldiers returned to their lives as second class citizens and would only hope that the liberties that they fought for in France would someday be experienced by the next generation.. The parades afforded World War I veterans in New York City, would indeed symbolically represent the hope of the future, that someday they too would be respected as men, and honored for their bravery by a nation yet to grow in this direction.
I hope that my grandfather got to see some of his army buddies again. I hope that they shared the comradeship of men, who fought for a just cause in a far away land. My hope too, is that all of them will be remembered as heroes.
Bonus Footage of the Harlem Hellfighters Return Home