February is #BlackHistoryMonth

February is #BlackHistoryMonth and we are using this month to honor military excellence on the battlefield – recognizing major historical figures and important moments from the colonial era to present day. While it would be impossible for us to recognize all who have served and sacrificed for our freedoms, please continue reading below to read stories of excellence as well as some additional resources to help you, too, recognize #BlackHistory Month. Is there is anyone we missed whom you want to see recognized, let us know by following @homebaseprogram and #BlackHistoryMonth on social media.

Medal of Honor Recipients

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. The first Medal was not awarded until January 1894, although the earliest actions for which the Medal was awarded took place before the Civil War began – in 1861. Since then, more than 3,400 Medals have been awarded. A total of 88 Medal of Honors have been awarded to Black Service Members and Veterans.

Sgt. William Harvey Carney was the first Black recipient of the Medal of Honor. Born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, Carney and his family were eventually granted freedom and moved to Massachusetts. He joined the Union Army in March of 1863, and was subsequently attached to the Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment, the first official Black unit recruited for the Union. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on July 18th, 1863 at Fort Wagner, SC. After his unit’s color guard was shot, Carney caught the falling flag and held it high – despite suffering from serious wounds himself.  Click here to read the full citation.

 

William Henry Johnson – commonly known as Henry Johnson – was one of two Black recipients of the Medal of Honor for actions during World War I. Born in Winston Salem, North Carolina, Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 1917. He was assigned to Company C, 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment – an all-Black National Guard unit that would eventually become the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on the front lines of the Western Front in France in May of 1918, when he and another soldier received a surprise attack from a German raiding party. Despite being severely outnumbered and receiving significant wounds, Johnson bravely held back the enemy until the German’s retreated. Click here to read the full citation.

First Lieutenant Vernon J. Baker was awarded the Medal of Honor more than fifty years after World War II, when President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal to seven Black World War II Veterans. Baker was the only living recipient. Born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Baker enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941. He was assigned to the segregated 270th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division, which was the first Black unit to go into combat in WWII. He was awarded the Medal for his actions in Italy in April 1945, when he advanced ahead of the rest of his company and destroyed enemy installations, personnel, and equipment. The next evening, he led a battalion through enemy mine fields and heavy fire. Click here to read the full citation.

 

Private First Class William Henry Thompson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions while serving as a machine gunner with Company M, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division in Korea. The New York, New York native fearlessly faced the enemy during a surprise attack in August of 1950, allowing his platoon to withdraw to a safer position. Despite being wounded, he refused to evacuate. He stood his ground until he was ultimately killed by a grenade. Click here to read the full citation.

 

Private First Class James Anderson, Jr. became the first African American U.S. Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor after he was posthumously awarded the Medal in 1967. The Los Angeles, California native deployed to Vietnam in December of 1966 with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division. He was mortally wounded in February 1967 when he covered a grenade with his body to save his teammates. He was immediately killed, but the Marines around him survived. Click here to read the full citation.

 

Click here to view a full list of Black recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Key Historical Figures & Groups

Though it would take far more than a month to recognize each of the major figures and groups that have contributed to our nation’s military history, continue reading below to learn more about several noteworthy names.

With respect to Home Base’s ties to New England, it is only fitting to include Salem Poor on this list. Often touted as the “hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill,” this Andover, Massachusetts native was sent to Bunker Hill to build a fort in June 1775. Though details of his early life are sparse, Poor was born a slave and managed to buy his freedom in 1769. He fought for the patriot cause at Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and Monmouth. His gallantry at the Battle of Bunker Hill led 14 officers to cite him for heroism, and he is credited with mortally wounding British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie. You can read more about Salem Poor here.

Eugene Jacques Bullard is considered the first African American military pilot to fly in combat. Though he was the only African American pilot in World War I, he – ironically – never flew for the United States. Unhappy at home, Bullard made his way to Scotland in 1912. Eventually making his way to France, Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion after World War I began. He entered the Aéronautique Militaire in 1916. Though he tried to join the U.S. Air Service after the United States entered the war in 1917, he was rejected due to the racism that existed in the military at the time. Click here to read more about Eugene Jacques Bullard.

 

The Buffalo Soldiers were African American soldiers who primarily served on the Western frontier after the Civil War.  Six all-black cavalry and infantry regiments were formed in 1866 and tasked with helping to control the Native Americans of the Plains, capture cattle rustlers and thieves, and protect settlers.  Click here to read more about the Buffalo Soldiers.

 

 

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination in the services. By 1942, the Marine Corps had begun recruiting Black men. Between 1942 and 1949, approximately 20,000 African Americans completed training at Montford Point, North Carolina. They became known as the “Montford Point Marines.

 

 

Up until 1941, African Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. Thanks to the efforts of civil rights organizations, an all African American squadron was established in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1941. The Tuskegee Airmen include pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff. Despite segregation and prejudice, the Tuskegee Airmen became “one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II.” Click here to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen.

 

General Colin L. Powell served 35 years in the U.S. Army, eventually rising to the rank of four-star general. He was the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the first Black Secretary of State. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Powell participated in ROTC in college and eventually deployed to Vietnam in the 1960s. He is the recipient of many awards, including two Presidential Medals of Freedom, a Purple Heart, and the Congressional Gold Medal. Click here to read more.

 

Black Women in the Military

Since the Revolutionary War, women have played an important role in our nation’s military history. You can reference this History of Women in the U.S. Military for an overview of women’s involvement in the Armed Forces, and scroll down to learn more about several Black women who have answered the call to serve.

Private William Cathay – also known as Cathay Williams, a female ex-slave -illegally joined the U.S. Army in 1866 as a means to support herself. As a soldier with the 38th Infantry, she marched hundreds of miles through central Kansas and present-day Oklahoma. Born to a free father and a slave mother, she is the only documented female buffalo soldier. Click here to read more about her experiences in the Army.

 

Perhaps best known for her role as an Underground Railroad conductor, Harriet Tubman was also heavily involved with the Union Army. She first enrolled as a nurse, later expanding her role by serving as a scout and spy for the Union in South Carolina. During this time, she would disguise herself and roam the Confederate-controlled streets to learn about Confederate troop placements and supply lines. Click here to learn more about Harriet Tubman.

 

 

Marine Corps Colonel Lorna M. Mahlock was recently confirmed as the first Black woman Brigadier General in the United States Marine Corps. Brigadier General Lorna Mahlock is the Director, Command, Control, Communications and Computers (C4) and the Deputy Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer of the Marine Corps. Brigadier General Maholock was born in Kingston, Jamaica and later immigrated to Brooklyn, New York. Click here to learn more about Brigadier General Maholock.