While the U.S. Army was still segregated at the outbreak of World War I, Americans of all ethnicities were nonetheless an integral part of the military. One such unit was the 369th colored regiment, led by a white officer named Hamilton Fish. The 369th regiment was one of four colored regiments that saw combat during World War I. Throughout the duration of the war, 400,000 African American soldiers served in the United States Army. In terms of battle losses, 475 were killed, and another 3,468 were wounded out of the total battle strength of approximately 10,000 men.
The 369th regiment was nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters, since most of the soldiers experienced a great deal of racism while preparing for war in the United States. During a twelve day period in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the black soldiers were pushed off sidewalks, harassed, and even assaulted by whites. As a result, Hamilton Fish sent a telegram to the Secretary of the Navy – his close personal friend, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Fish hoped that Roosevelt would work to get his unit transferred to France to fight the Germans. Instead, the soldiers were sent to Camp Whitman in New York where they received additional harassment from a nearby regiment from Alabama.
Finally, the soldiers were sent to France to see military action. At first, the black soldiers were used as laborers, since integration with white soldiers was not allowed. Later, the soldiers were sent to supplement the French army.
The 369th compiled a fine war record. The regiment spent 191 days on the frontlines – longer than any other American regiment during the war. The regiment never lost an inch of ground, and was the first Allied regiment to reach the Rhine River. In addition, no member of the 369th regiment was ever taken as a prisoner of war. Captain Hamilton Fish received the Silver Star medal for actions at Meuse-Argonne. After the war, Fish became a well-known United States Congressman. Because of their exemplary war record, a $30,000 monument was erected in France to commemorate the gallant service of the Harlem Hellfighters.