Heroes are made every day. Most don’t set out to become heroes, they simply show up intending to be of service and do what they’re supposed to do. These are some of those heroes. When faced with prejudices due to the color of their skin, they marched forward and in doing so have gone down in history for their bravery.
They faced discrimination at home, even as they trained to serve their country. But the Harlem Hellfighters (recently officially given that name) became the New York National Guard’s first troop of Black servicemembers. While abroad, they’re credited with bringing Harlem’s quintessential jazz music to France. And though they contributed to the cultural exchange, more importantly, they went above and beyond serving their country and battled Germany longer than almost any other group of service members.
“Dorie,” as he was known by his peers, became one of World War II’s first American heroes in the midst of a day that lives in infamy. As the attack on Pearl Harbor commenced, Dorie stood by his captain’s side and helped move his seriously injured captain to safety. Then he took to a machine gun and combatted enemy fire from the Japanese. For his heroic behavior, he was presented with the Navy Cross. Afterwards his face was even used on recruitment posters.
A blurb doesn’t do the Tuskegee Airmen justice, which is why we wrote our own full-length post about them. But the short version is this: Against all odds, and prejudiced ideas that Black people couldn’t learn to operate sophisticated aircraft, the Tuskegee Airmen soared. Even when they were flying in second-hand aircraft, they always completed their mission, and incurred significantly fewer losses than other escort groups.
First Lieutenant Vernon J. Baker, USA
Just seven Black people who served in World War II have received the Medal of Honor, and it took half a century for these awards to be upgraded (no Black people were awarded the Medal of Honor during WWII). While serving in Italy, Vernon Baker (then 2LT) found himself and his platoon behind enemy lines. Over the course of two nights, Baker and his platoon were responsible for 25 enemy casualties and the destruction of six machine gun nests, four dugouts, and two observer posts. His service also earned him a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Distinguished Service Cross. All seven Black WWII Medal of Honor recipients were awarded by President Clinton in 1997. 1LT Baker was the only living recipient.
Private First Class Milton Olive III, USA
Milton Olive joined the Army in Chicago in 1964 and by 1965 he found himself serving in Vietnam. In October 1965, Olive and his platoon found themselves temporarily pinned down. As they retaliated against enemy fire, the enemy fled. They attempted to follow and pin down their enemies, but in the midst of their pursuit, a grenade landed amongst them. In a moment of selflessness and heroism, Olive jumped on top of the grenade, sacrificing himself and saving the lives of the rest of his platoon. For his true heroism and selflessness, President Johnson awarded his father and step-mother the Medal of Honor in his name in 1966. Olive was the first Black recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War.
Posted on February 15 2021 in Blog