The Vietnam Memorial gallery

The Legacy of the Harlem Hellfighters

The 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the "Harlem Hellfighters" was the first African American regiment of the New York National
The Legacy of the Harlem Hellfighters
About the Exhibit
Their Glory Can Never Fade: The Legacy of the Harlem Hellfighters
Authorized in 1913, the 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly known as the 15th Infantry of the New York National Guard, was the first African American regiment of the New York National Guard. Having no prior combat experience, the regiment based in Harlem consisted of African American men from all over New York State and Puerto Rico.

After serving 191 days of combat in France, longer than any American regiment of World War I, the German army nicknamed the soldiers “Hellfighters” due to their actions on the battlefield. Facing discrimination at home and possessing a passion to demonstrate their worth as an African American military regiment, the 369th transformed into an accomplished unit—one whose legacy left an indelible mark on music and cultures worldwide.

This legacy has had a lasting impact on African Americans’ participation in impending conflicts post-World War I; especially notable is the Vietnam War which officially marked the first-time African Americans served in fully integrated combat units.
Rise of the Harlem Hellfighters


JUNE 2, 1913

Governor William Sulzer signs a bill authorizing the creation of the 15th Infantry of the New York National Guard making them the first African American Infantry of the New York National Guard.



APRIL 6, 1917

America enters World War I and three days later the regiment is recognized by the federal government.



OCTOBER 8, 1917

The regiment traveled to Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina but face such severe discrimination from the locals that the regiment is moved to France to continue training.



DECEMBER 27, 1917

The regiment lands in France but is only used as a labor unit, building roads and docks, while the regimental band, directed by James Reese Europe, toured hospitals and camps.



MARCH, 1918

After months of rallying for combat, the 15th Infantry is granted permission to join the French Army as the 369th Regiment of the United States.



MAY 14 - 15, 1918

Henry Johnson, a native of Albany, New York, defeats over twenty German soldiers using a broken rifle, a handful of grenades, and a bolo knife in what became known as “The Battle of Henry Johnson.”



DECEMBER 13, 1918

The 369th Regiment receives France’s prestigious military honor, the Croix de Guerre. For his bravery, Johnson was awarded the Croix de Guerre “avec Palme.”



FEBRUARY 17, 1919

The 369th is welcomed home by massive crowds in a parade along 5th Avenue into Harlem.