Three Decorated Guard Regiments Helped Win World War I
ARLINGTON, Va.—Each February, during African-American History Month, the Nation remembers the important contributions African-Americans have made throughout U.S. history.
The National Guard’s history is also replete with examples of African-Americans who served with distinction. A notable example existed within the three National Guard regiments that fought in World War I under the U.S. Army’s 93rd Division: the 369th, 370th, and 372nd Infantry Regiments.
Although organized as an all-Black division for the war, these regiments did not fight as one. Instead, each was assigned to French divisions, as the French requested the immediate use of American divisions to reinforce the French army. Each of the regiments took part in major combat operations and received battlefield accolades for its service with the French army.
The 369th ‘Harlem Hellfighters’
Probably one of the most famous American Units to emerge from World War I was the 369th Infantry, or “Harlem Hellfighters.”
Organized in the summer of 1916 as a result of State legislation authorizing the formation of a Black National Guard regiment, the 15th Infantry, New York National Guard, was called into Federal service in July 1917 and ordered to France. After three attempts to cross the Atlantic, the 15th landed in France in December 1917 and discovered it had been redesignated as the 369th Infantry Regiment. After being attached to the French army for training, it was assigned to the 161st Infantry Division of the French army.
The regiment took part in major operations in the Champagne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne, and Alsace campaigns – campaigns where front lines were retaken or German attacks were thwarted.
Overall, the regiment spent 191 days in the front-line trenches. For its actions, the 369th was cited 11 times for bravery and was decorated with the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star for service during the Meuse-Argonne campaign.
In addition to having the unique distinction of receiving three nicknames: “Harlem Hellfighters,” “Men of Bronze,” and the “Black Watch,” the 369th’s regimental band was well known throughout Europe for its concerts and is credited with introducing American jazz to Europe.
Since World War I, the 369th underwent several reorganizations and is known today as New York National Guard’s Headquarters Company, 369th Sustainment Brigade.
The 370th ‘Black Devils’
Although redesignated as the 370th Infantry Regiment during World War I, the Unit’s history begins nearly 20 years before entry into the war. Initially organized in 1895 as the 9th Battalion Infantry, the all-Black National Guard Unit was redesignated as the 8th Illinois Infantry in 1898. After Federal service in the Spanish-American war, the Unit was called again in 1916 for service on the Mexican Border.
As the 370th was assigned to the 93rd Division in 1917, the regiment arrived in France in April 1918. It was ultimately assigned to the French 59th Division, which took part in the Oise-Aisne offensive where the Germans abandoned their defensive lines.
The 370th had the distinction of being the only Black regiment completely staffed with Black officers. For its actions during the war, members received 21 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1 Distinguished Service Medal, and 68 Croix de Guerre.
After World War I, the regiment reorganized and is known today as the Illinois National Guard’s 178th Infantry.
The 372nd Infantry
National Guard units from Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia that had been organized in the 1880s made up the 372nd Infantry Regiment, which was organized in 1917.
Upon its arrival in France, the 372nd was similarly attached to French army divisions for training before being assigned to a division – the well-known French 157th “Red Hand” Infantry Division – and took part in the Meuse-Argonne, Lorraine, and Alsace campaigns.
Members of the regiment had the distinguished record of never surrendering or retreating, and their participation in the Meuse-Argonne advance was decisive in ending the war after members of the 372nd were credited with taking nearly 600 prisoners and securing large quantities of engineering supplies and artillery ammunition.
For its actions during the Meuse-Argonne, the regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm.
Although the regiment was deactivated after World War II, the 372nd is perpetuated by the Ohio National Guard’s 237th Support Battalion and the District of Columbia’s 372nd Military Police Battalion.
The National Guard, 100 years later
Almost 100 years after World War I, the Guard is still deploying overseas to protect and defend America and her allies. But the mission doesn’t end there for this part-time branch of the military. The Guard also serves the community, responding to domestic emergencies like hurricanes and wildfires, and protecting citizens during high-profile events like the recent Presidential Inauguration.
National Guard Soldiers train for a career in one of more than 150 fields, including intelligence, military police, logistics, infantry, and more. Soldiers can build on that training by attending college or vocational school using the Guard’s education benefits.
From an original article by SSG Michelle Gonzalez, National Guard Bureau, which appeared in the special features section of NationalGuard.mil.