My grandfather Sam Walton served in the 809th Pioneer Infantry during World War I. The army was segregated at that time, and the 809th Pioneer Infantry was an all black unit. His particular regiment served in France working the docks as Stevedores, and I wrote an article about his service and what they did during the War in Europe.
I have often wanted to learn more about the unit and how they were treated, while serving as well as when they returned home. I recently came across an article reflecting a large reception given to the men of two Pioneer regiments, the 804th and 809th respectively. Upon return of these soldiers to America in 1919, in the City of St. Paul Minnesota, a large reception was held in their honor.
The time was August 1919, and returning soldiers were asked to be present and in uniform so that would be recognized and duly honored. The St. Paul Appeal a black newspaper in Minnesota, printed a large invitation to the community the week before the event. A large committee had worked to welcome the returning soldiers.
Names of Citizens from St. Paul who planned the event were printed in The Appeal.
In other cities like New York the Black Regiments received full honors with parades and much fanfare. Pioneer regiments were met in other cities where they were apparently received with much enthusiasm as well.
In New York the New York Tribune announced the arrivals of shiploads of returning soldiers.
Source: NY Tribune July 17, 1919 Page 6
In July the USS Scranton brought the men of the 809th Pioneer Infantry home, arriving form St. Nazaire, France.
Somewhere on that ship, my grandfather was there, along with his comrades in arms, the other quiet soldiers "of the brawny arm."
Apparently as the soldiers moved more to the midwest, they received other warm wishes from the citizenry. In the city of Des Moines Iowa, the two infantries were welcomed the men with great enthusiasm and many festivities were planned on their behalf.
Source: The Des Moines Iowa Bystander, August 1, 1919
Eventually he was discharged from service honorably, and returned to eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas. Unfortunately Grandpa Sam died before I was born, so I never got to ask him questions about his service, about France and about what he felt of his experiences having served. But I am proud nevertheless of his service, even though he may have returned to a nation with so many challenges still ahead and he returned to a country that still did not give him all privileges he deserved.
But what he did in his service made a difference and he is one of the many ancestors upon whose shoulders I stand.
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