Harlem Hellfighters 369th Unit Honored with Congressional Gold Medal

Photos credit: Bill Moore

On August 13, 2021 Senator Gillibrand, Congressman Tom Suozzi, Senator Charles Schumer, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, celebrated the creation of a Congressional Gold Medal honoring the “Harlem Hellfighters” for bravery and outstanding service during WWI.

The 369th Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the Harlem Hellfighters, were a Black infantry regiment of the New York National Guard that fought in WWI.

Command Sergeant Major Andrew Lampkins 369th was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal.
Sergeant Henry Johnson received, posthumously, the Medal of Honor –his unit was forced to fight under French command due to segregation and racism.

369th member Sgt. Leander Willett’s sister and granddaughter spoke at the event.

The Harlem Hellfighters were a Black infantry regiment in WWI who spent 191 days in combat, more than any other similarly sized American regiment. In 1918, the U.S. Army assigned the Hellfighters to the French army because many white American soldiers refused to go into combat alongside Black Americans. The Hellfighters earned the nicknames “Hommes de Bronze” (Men of Bronze) from the French and “Hollenkampfer” (Hellfighters) from the Germans due to their doggedness and strength. The Hellfighters earned 11 French citations and a unit Croix de Guerre, and 170 soldiers were individually awarded the French Croix de Guerre. However, despite their courage and devotion, the Hellfighters faced prejudice and racism upon their return to the United States.

The United States Congress gives the Congressional Gold Medal to those who have “performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field, long after the achievement.” The Congressional Gold Medal is Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. The Congressional Gold Medal will be designed and struck by the United States Mint and displayed at the Smithsonian Institution and at events associated with the Harlem Hellfighters. There have been only two other Congressional Gold Medals awarded to distinguished African American military groups: the Tuskegee Airmen in 2007 and the Montfort Point Marines in 2011, both from World War II.

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