African-American war heroes through all of America’s conflicts

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African-American war heroes through all of America’s conflicts

Obviously February is African American History Month, and I wanted to highlight some of my favorite Medals of Honor and other heroes from America’s history.

I’ll start right from the beginning, some haven’t received the medal of honor, but probably should have.

American Revolution:  Crispus Attucks.

Hundreds of schools across the country (including here in Indy) are named for this hero, but I would think very few actually know who he is.  When I was a kid I lived in Massachusetts, and I loved everything about the Revolution, so I’ve known the story of Crispus since I was about 7 and would run around my yard wearing a tri-cornered hat and shooting redcoats with a stick:

This is a pretty good video that contains the basics:   

In the Civil War we have MOH Recipient Bruce Anderson (from Wiki):

Anderson was born June 19, 1845 in Mexico City but by the beginning of the Civil War was working as a farmer in New York. He enlisted for service in the military from Schenectady on August 31, 1864 as a private in Company K, 142nd New York Volunteer Infantry, Anderson has the unusual, but not unique, distinction of being an African American soldier who served in a white Civil War regiment.

On January 15, 1865, Anderson participated in the Union's second attack on Fort Fisher in North Carolina. He and twelve other men answered a call for volunteers to advance ahead of the main attack and cut down the palisade which blocked their path. Despite intense fire from the Confederate defenders, Anderson and the others were successful in destroying the obstacle. General Adelbert Ames recommended all thirteen men for the Medal of Honor, but his report was misplaced and not all of the medals were issued

Forty-nine years after the end of the war, in 1914, Anderson hired a lawyer in an effort to receive the Medal of Honor. One of the other soldiers in the palisade-cutting group, Private Zachariah C. Neahr, had successfully petitioned for the award decades earlier. At Anderson's prompting, the Adjutant General of the Army launched an investigation which uncovered General Ames' letter of recommendation and sought out the other men of the group. Three men, Alaric B. Chapin, George Merrill, and Dewitt C. Hotchkiss, were found to be still alive and were, along with Anderson, again recommended for the medal.  Anderson, Merrill, and Chapin were each issued the Medal of Honor on December 28, 1914; Hotchkiss' recommendation was overlooked a second time, and he was never decorated

And then in World War I, Henry Jackson:

Henry Johnson was the most famous member of the “Harlem Hellfighters,” an all-black National Guard unit that was among the first American forces to arrive in Europe during World War I. Johnson and his fellow African American soldiers spent their early days in the war performing unskilled manual labor before being sent to reinforce the depleted ranks of the French army.

On May 14, 1918, Johnson and another “Hellfighter” named Needham Roberts were serving sentry duty in the Argonne Forest. Just after 2 a.m. the duo was attacked by a detachment of some 20 German troops. Both men had soon been wounded—Roberts so severely that he was unable to stand or shoot—but Johnson held fast and fought back with hand grenades and his rifle. Despite being shot several times, he returned fire until his weapon jammed, and then used it as a club and fought hand to hand until it broke into pieces. When Johnson saw that the Germans were trying to take Roberts prisoner, he drew his one remaining weapon—a bolo knife—and slashed and stabbed several men until the raiding party finally fell back. When the dust cleared, Johnson had inflicted at least a dozen casualties on the Germans and suffered 21 wounds from gunfire and bayonets. Both he and Roberts were later given the Croix de Guerre—one of France’s highest military honors—but Johnson’s heroic stand went unrewarded in the United States until 1996, when he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. He later received the Distinguished Service Cross in 2003.

Good video here on the Johnson and the Harlem Hellfighters:

From World War II, my all-time favorite Medal of Honor, that given to John Fox of the 97th Infantry Division:

The 92nd Infantry Division (colored), also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, was a segregated African-American division that fought on the Italian Front during World War II. First Lieutenant John R. Fox was assigned to the 366th Infantry Regiment.

In December 1944, American troops had been forced to withdraw from the Italian village of Sommocolonia when the Germans overran them. Fox volunteered to stay behind as part of a small forward observer party. From his position on the second floor of a house, Fox directed defensive artillery fire.

The Germans were in the open in the streets and attacking in strength, vastly outnumbering the small group of American soldiers. Lieutenant Fox radioed in to have the artillery fire adjusted closer to his position, then radioed again to have the shelling moved even closer. The soldier receiving the message was stunned since that would bring the deadly artillery fire right on top of Lieutenant Fox’s position; he would surely be killed.

When Fox was told this, he replied, “Fire it.”

‘That last round was just where I wanted it, the young lieutenant reported. “Bring it in 60 yards more.”

His Medal of honor Citation:

For extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, Italy, on December 26, 1944, while serving as a member of Cannon Company, 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division. During the preceding few weeks, Lieutenant Fox served with the 598th Field Artillery Battalion as a forward observer. On Christmas night, enemy soldiers gradually infiltrated the town of Sommocolonia in civilian clothes, and by early morning the town was largely in hostile hands. Commencing with a heavy barrage of enemy artillery at 0400 hours on December 26, 1944, an organized attack by uniformed German units began. Being greatly outnumbered, most of the United States Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town, but Lieutenant Fox and some other members of his observer party voluntarily remained on the second floor of a house to direct defensive artillery fire. At 0800 hours, Lieutenant Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He then called for defensive artillery fire to slow the enemy advance. As the Germans continued to press the attack towards the area that Lieutenant Fox occupied, he adjusted the artillery fire closer to his position. Finally he was warned that the next adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position. After acknowledging the danger, Lieutenant Fox insisted that the last adjustment be fired as this was the only way to defeat the attacking soldiers. Later, when a counterattack retook the position from the Germans, Lieutenant Fox's body was found with the bodies of approximately 100 German soldiers. Lieutenant Fox's gallant and courageous actions, at the supreme sacrifice of his own life, contributed greatly to delaying the enemy advance until other infantry and artillery units could reorganize to repel the attack. His extraordinary valorous actions were in keeping with the most cherished traditions of military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

And then in Korea there was Cornelius Charlton of the 25ID:

In late May and early June 1951, the Eighth Army launched Operation Piledriver, a concentrated effort to push Chinese and North Korean troops further north and out of South Korea. The 25th Infantry Division advanced as part of this operation.[2] The 24th Infantry saw a slow advance during this operation, attempting to advance on Kumwha but encountering strong resistance. On July 1, the 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry took heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw to reserve positions, and the 1st and 3rd Battalions moved up to continue the advance.

On June 2, C Company moved to capture Hill 543 near the village of Chipo-ri.[n 2] The hill was protected by heavily entrenched Chinese infantry as well as mortars at the top of the hill. During their first attempt to advance up the hill, the company took heavy casualties, and the 3rd Platoon leader was mortally wounded. Charlton took command of the platoon and reorganized it for another attack. Heavy fire eventually forced the company back down the hill.

Three times, Charlton led the platoon up the hill in the face of intense Chinese mortar and infantry fire. In spite of mounting casualties, the platoon made slow progress. Charlton single-handedly destroyed two Chinese positions and killed six Chinese soldiers with rifle fire and grenades. During one advance, Charlton was wounded in the chest, but he refused medical treatment and pushed the company forward. Charlton continued to lead the attack from the front of the platoon, and several times was separated from the unit. Subsequent accounts noted Charlton continued the advance "holding his chest wound with one hand and an M1 carbine with the other.

Under Charlton's leadership, the platoon managed to overcome the Chinese infantry positions, but it spotted a Chinese bunker on the far side of the top of the hill, from which the mortars were firing on them. As recounted by Private First Class Ronald Holmes, one of the men in the platoon, Charlton decided to destroy the bunker, and with his last known words, "Let's go," he urged the platoon forward, charging at the front of the formation ahead of the rest of his men. In one final action, Charlton advanced alone to the top of the hill and the location of the Chinese mortars, firing repeatedly on the emplacement there. The Chinese troops wounded Charlton one final time with a grenade, but he continued firing until the position was destroyed. Charlton subsequently died from the wounds inflicted by the grenade. However, he is credited with saving much of his platoon, which had been under heavy mortar fire.

In Vietnam there was Melvin Morris, who may be one of the nicest people I ever met.  I was lucky enough to be at his ceremony, and then ran into him in Tulsa, Oklahoma a few months later.  This is a good video with him:

His citation is amazing too:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Commander of a Strike Force drawn from Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Chi Lang, Republic of Vietnam on September 17, 1969.

On that afternoon, Staff Sergeant Morris’ affiliated companies encountered an extensive enemy mine field and were subsequently engaged by a hostile force. Staff Sergeant Morris learned by radio that a fellow team commander had been killed near an enemy bunker and he immediately reorganized his men into an effective assault posture before advancing forward and splitting off with two men to recover the team commander’s body. Observing the maneuver, the hostile force concentrated its fire on Staff Sergeant Morris’ three-man element and successfully wounded both men accompanying him. After assisting the two wounded men back to his forces’ lines, Staff Sergeant Morris charged forward into withering enemy fire with only his men’s suppressive fire as cover. While enemy machine gun emplacements continuously directed strafing fusillades against him, Staff Sergeant Morris destroyed the positions with hand grenades and continued his assault, ultimately eliminating four bunkers. Upon reaching the bunker nearest the fallen team commander, Staff Sergeant Morris repulsed the enemy, retrieved his comrade and began the arduous trek back to friendly lines. He was wounded three times as he struggled forward, but ultimately succeeded in returning his fallen comrade to a friendly position.

Staff Sergeant Morris’ extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Although the first Gulf War yielded no Medals of Honor, one of the men identified with the rapid victory was General Colin Powell, who would go on to serve as Secretary of State.  If you don’t know his bio, it is amazing….he came from a life of poverty, surrounded by drugs and gangs, and ascended to one of the best known Generals and politicians of all time:

And although there are a gazillion heroes who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, some who I served with, the one man who typifies heroism (and who I hope one day receives the Medal of Honor) is Alwyn Cashe:

October 17, 2005, Samarra, Iraq: An IED exploded under a Bradley Fighting Vehicle designated Alpha 13, igniting its fuel cell, throwing fuel onto the uniforms and bodies of men inside. Sergeant 1st Class Alwyn “Al” Cashe from Sanford, Florida, was in the gunner’s hatch. Leader of the men in the Bradley, he managed to escape; then, while under enemy fire, he made three trips back into the burning BFV to pull six soldiers and an interpreter out. His own fuel-soaked uniform burned away, leaving only his helmet, body armor and boots. Covered with severe burns over as much as 90% of his body, he refused to be evacuated until all of his men had been medevac’d. He died November 8, 2005, at San Antonio Military Hospital in Texas.

For his actions that day, Sergeant Cashe was awarded the Silver Star, the Army’s third-most prestigious medal. But Brigadier General Gary Brito, the commander who recommended him for the Silver Star, determined after further review that the sergeant should have been recommended for a Medal of Honor, America’s highest military award. 

Accoring to a quote  from his sister in the LA Times, when he awoke in the hospital he said:

When Cashe was able to speak, White said, his first words were: “How are my boys?” — his soldiers, she said.

Then he began weeping, she said. He told her: “I couldn’t get to them fast enough.”


Heroes, every last one of them.

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What men! Each laid down his life for his men and our country. Great examples for soldiers anywhere and American ones in particular. Thank you for the information!

If General Patton was alive he would give this group the Medal of Honor as they worked 4 months 24/7 to provide fuel fir his mobility. This group was responsible for winning thew war. I know I was on the planning group for this support.

This is a great example of heroes that never got Towing I really appreciate finding out about the zeros and wish to know more please send me more to my email or text either way you want to my email address is My phone number 602-576-0109


i would like to know how I can get access to the information in this article, including footages. We are a historical group in Texas that bring these types of stories to groups that don't typically use social media. We focus on African Americans, both locally and across the states. My email address is Thank you in advance for any leads.

Thanks Online Update for recognizing accomplishments of African American Veterans in American History!

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.