More Tales of Bravery from Albany’s  Harlem Hell Fighters – But We Need Your Help!

 

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We’re trying to find out what we can about Sgt. Alfred Adams, from Albany, a member of Company C (the Albany Company) of the 369th Regiment (the Harlem Hell Fighters) awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government in World War I.

By now most of you are very familiar with the story Sgt. Henry Johnson from Albany – posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in World War I. As the story goes, he enlisted with about a half dozen other Black men from Albany, many of whom worked for the railroad. We’re pretty sure Alfred Adams was one of those men.*

This is what we know: He was born to Jacob and Caroline Sawyer Adams in 1897 in Albany. They appeared to have lived on Orange St., at various addresses, before Alfred enlisted in 1917. His father was a waiter (probably for the D & H Railroad). He had younger brother and sister, Edwin and Pauline. His father was active in community organizations, including the Elim House, for “colored young women” on Orange St. in the early 1900s and the Albany Inter-racial Council in the 1940s.

The story of the Harlem Hell Fighters (the 369th Infantry) is fascinating. It was a Black unit (the U.S. Army wasn’t de-segregated until 1948 by Pres. Truman) formed from the 15th NY National Guard, created to recruit Black men for World War I. It was among the first U.S. units shipped to Europe to help the French – desperate for American aid. General Pershing, commander of the American forces, was caught between a rock and a hard place. White troops didn’t want to fight in combat with black troops, yet Pershing didn’t want American soldiers to take orders from French officers. Finally, Pershing relented, and permitted the 369th to fight under French officers, rather than just serving in a support role, as was the case with most Black American troops.

So the Hell Fighters were among the first American troops to see combat during the War, performing with courage and bravery, that opened the eyes of the Country to what a Black man could do. The 369th spent more time in front line combat than any other American unit. It sustained heavy casualties and the regiment was much reduced in size when it returned home at the War’s end. It appears that as many as 120-150 soldiers from the 369th were awarded the French medal for heroism – the Croix de Guerre. At least two of those men, Sergeants Henry Johnson and Alfred Adams, were from Albany and both lived on Orange St.

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And that takes us back to Sgt. Adams. He was working for the Railroad when he enlisted in the Army in May 1917 when he was 20. By August he was promoted to Corporal. We think it was his actions in the summer of 1918, during the Champagne offensive in the Battle of the Marne, for which Sgt. Adams was awarded the Croix de Guerre. In late August 1918 he was promoted to Sergeant. But his war wasn’t over. In September 1918 he was severely wounded – his name appears in an Albany newspaper casualty list almost a month later on October 8.

 

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Unlike Sgt. Johnson, Sgt. Adams returns to more normal life in Albany. He’s discharged from the Army in February 1919, and marries Beatrice Van Houten in 1920 – they don’t appear to have had children. He goes to work as a Red Cap (railroad porter) at Union Station in Albany. We lose track of the Sgt. until 1948, when a reference to him emerges in an interview by “The Knickerbocker News” with Frank Noble, head Red Cap. (Adams has continued to work as a Red Cap and he and Noble are best friends; they own a camp on Lake Champlain. It’s in that interview that Noble mentions that Adams was a member of the 369th and awarded the Croix de Guerre – that set us off on our search).

Finally in 1955 we find Sgt. Adams and his wife living in West Hill, at 123 North Lake Ave. (between Elk St. and Clinton Ave.). Then we lose track. We believe Sgt. Adams died in 1974.

So tell us anything you may know about Sgt. Adams or any of the Black men identified below. Please message us with any pieces of information so we can tell more of the stories of Sgt. Adams and other men from Albany who served with the legendary Harlem Hell Fighters.

*This is a list (probably not complete) of the men from Albany who served with the 369th (all served in Company C):
Pvt. Cornelius Banks
Pvt. Harold Caesar
Pvt. Walter Cobbs
Corp. Robert Blackwell
Corp. Robert DeGraw
Corp. William Freeman
Pvt. William Hallicons
Corp. Charles Jackson
Pvt. George Jackson
Albert Johnson (rank unknown)
James Johnson (rank unknown)
Pvt Charles jones
Pvt. Robert Lodge
George McNamara (or Mcnamary ) (rank unknown)
Corp. Foster Molson
Corp. Merritt Molson (may also have received the Croix de Guerre)
George Morgan (rank unknown)
Pvt. William Randall
Pvt. Clarence Sickles
Sgt. William Thomas
Pvt. John Wallace

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Parker Dunn – Albany Medal Of Honor Recipient

33720264_1658334284214827_6611007480992366592_nYou’ve driven over the bridge across the Hudson River from Albany to Rensselaer many times. You may even know its name – the Dunn Memorial. But you may not know why it has that name.

The bridge was named after Parker F. Dunn who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his gallant and courageous service in World War I.

 

Parker was born in North Albany in 1890 to an Irish Catholic family. His mother died when he was about a year and half. His father, an Albany police officer, felt unable to care for Parker and placed him with his aunt and uncle, Mary and George Mimney, who lived in the Cathedral parish. He attended Cathedral Academy but left school a young age to become a Western Union messenger to help out his aunt, who was by now a widow with three young daughters. He was by all accounts an average All-American young man, who loved baseball and was an altar boy at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. At the time he entered the Army he was working for the Standard Oil Co.

33765908_1658333104214945_6637036636368535552_oHe tried to volunteer for service several times, but was turned down because of poor eyesight. Finally in April 1918, at the age of 26, he entered the Army. Dunn was assigned to a military intelligence unit of the 312th Infantry, 78th Division. After training in Fort Dix, his company was on its way across the Atlantic in June. After a short stop in England, they reached France July 1918.

By September Dunn was in the thick of it, in what would become the last push in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. It was the greatest battle of the War – more than 26,000 Americans were killed and over 96,000 wounded. The objective in the middle of October was the capture of the French village of Grandpre. What had been in the early days been a campaign measured in yards became a pitched and fierce fight in late October, with both sides throwing everything they had in to the battle.

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Dunn’s Medal of Honor Citation, issued by President Coolidge, tells it all. General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 49, November 25, 1922:

“When his battalion commander found it necessary to send a message to a company in the attacking line and hesitated to order a runner to make the trip because of the extreme danger involved, Pfc. Dunn, a member of the intelligence section, volunteered for the mission. After advancing but a short distance across a field swept by artillery and machine gun fire, he was wounded, but continued on and fell wounded a second time. Still undaunted, he persistently attempted to carry out his mission until he was killed (October 23rd) by a machine gun bullet before reaching the advance line. ”

In less than three weeks, the War would be over.

Initially Dunn was buried Grandpre. His remains were later moved to the American National Cemetery in Romagne, France. (The U.S. government initially prohibited the remains of soldiers being returned to the U.S., but later relented.) In 1921 Dunn’s remains were transferred to a family plot -section 16, lot 69- in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands.

James Dunn, Parker’s father, was presented with his son’s medal on Armistice Day, 1923 in Memorial Grove (New Scotland and So. Lake) by Parker’s commanding officer, Major General Robert Bullard,

Parker Dunn was one of 119 to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War I. Two of those men – Parker Dunn and Henry Johnson – were from Albany. I often wonder if their paths crossed before the War while they were in Albany.

The first Dunn Memorial Bridge was dedicated in 1933. It was replaced by the current bridge of the same name in the late 1960s. (The old bridge was demolished in 1971.)

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Albany and the Great War (that pretty much no one remembers)

 

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World War I has largely been forgotten. Not just in Albany but throughout the world, unless we think of Henry Johnson, Albany’s most recent Medal of Honor recipient.

Yet it was the war that changed the world forever; it was our loss of innocence, but brought the country together for the first time since before the Civil War.

It began in 1914; America didn’t enter the War until April, 1917, but when it did, the U.S. Government did everything within its power to raise an army. But after 3 weeks, there were only 73,000 volunteers (many who volunteered were rejected; they were illiterate or had un-diagnosed physical or mental issues that made them unfit for military service). In May 1917, a draft was instituted. By the time the war was over, about 4 million American men had served in some capacity.

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Great Uncle Will Anderson

About 6,500 men from Albany served (out of a population of about 105,000). Some were already in the Army like my great uncle Will, stationed at Balboa guarding the Panama Canal.

3Others were in the 10th NY National Guard, based at the Washington Ave. Armory (like my great uncle Arthur) and called to active duty. Some volunteered for the Army, Navy and Marines (there was no Army Air Corps until April 1918); others were drafted. America was unprepared for war and needed every able body. Great Uncle Fred couldn’t pass the physical for the Army. He joined the Merchant Marines by enlisting at Frank Smith’s Drugstore on Clinton Ave. (The U.S. Merchant Marines was desperate for men- it teamed up with the 6,800 drugstores that sold Rexall products across America to serve as recruitment centers – a genius idea.) Even Great Uncle Albert, somewhat of a rascal and already in the Army, was released early from his sentence of hard labor in the “The Castle” military prison on Governor’s Island to do something useful. (My Gram had 6 brothers, only 2 did not serve; was a Lt. in the Albany Fire Dept., the other was a telegrapher for the D&H Railroad – exempt occupations. Her family’s participation in World War I was quite similar to the rest of the City. If they would take you, you went.)

By May 1918 there were 1 million U.S troops in France. They were called the American Expeditionary Force (the A.E.F.). Their combat action started in late spring 1918 and it quickly became bloody and brutal. War had broken out all over Europe in August 1914; for almost 4 years the Germans and the Allies had been stuck in a holding pattern of trench warfare while half of the German Army was fighting the Russians. The new Bolshevik government in Russia surrendered in March 1918, and the Germans turned their full force back to France. The American quickly went on the offensive in the face of this threat in a succession of attacks.. at Belleau Wood, the Marne River, Amiens and the Argonne Forest.

In less than 5 months of fighting approximately 53,000 men were killed in action, 205,000 wounded (about 70,000 died from disease – 1918 was the height of the worldwide flu pandemic which affected young adults most severely). Men died from chemical warfare, in hand to hand combat and from facing modern weapons (grenades, automatic rifles, machine guns, mortars, tanks, flame throwers and German Big Bertha cannons), with inadequate training and equipment (there were no ant-aircraft guns at the start of the War). The life expectancy of American pilots in combat (flying with the French in the Lafayette Escadrille or the U.S. Army Air Corps) was about 1 month (parachutes were not used until after the War.. they were considered “bad form” and cowardly). Many who survived were blinded or left with horrible chemical burns or amputations and other disfigurement. It was the first time soldiers were diagnosed with “shell shock”- what we know today as PTSD. It was NOT a “good war”.

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Courtesy NYS Archives

9After the “War to end all Wars” the American dead, including those from Albany, lay buried in graves in France. One of those was another Albany Medal of Honor recipient, Parker Dunn (after whom the Dunn Memorial Bridge is named). He died in October, 1918 during the last great “push”, the Argonne Offensive. He was buried in a battlefield grave near Grand Pre, half way between the French city of Reims and the Belgian border. But the dead boys in Europe were going to stay there for another 2 to 3 years. Some families were ok with leaving their sons, their husbands, their brothers where they had fallen. Others were not. It didn’t make any difference; for 2 years the French refused to allow the bodies to be shipped home and re-interred. They had lots of support from British government officials who feared the impact on the English people if the bodies were brought back (about 700,000 British soldiers had been killed) and some of America’s greatest leaders, including General John Pershing, leader of the AEF, and ex-president Theodore Roosevelt. Finally after relentless pressure from American families and the newly formed American Legion, the French government lifted its ban and about 70,000 American troops were returned, including the bodies of about 25 of the 40 Albany soldiers killed overseas.

One of the first soldiers returned to Albany in March 1921 was William J. Kelly, Private USMC, from Jefferson St. He was killed in France in the early morning of November 11, 1918, before the Armistice ending the War went into effect “on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of that day. Private Kelly is interred in St. Agnes Cemetery.

11The memorial to the World War I dead is perhaps the least known in Albany. Memorial Grove was established in 1921 on the corner of S. Lake and New Scotland Ave, and is still there. It is truly the Forgotten War.

“He Put the Huns on the Run” – Albany’s Sgt. Henry Johnson and the Medal of Honor

June 5, 2017

Today is the first annual Sgt.Henry Johnson Day in Albany, celebrating the life of this distinguished war hero.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz18951357_1334296046618654_3469178987009407237_n

He was born William Henry Johnson in Winston Salem, North Carolina. In his teens he moved to Albany, and worked various jobs – as a chauffeur, soda mixer, laborer in a coal yard, and a Redcap porter at Albany’s Union Station.

 

 

 

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The 369th Infantry Regiment was ordered into battle in 1918, and Johnson and his unit were brigaded with a French army colonial unit in front-line combat. It was during this service that Johnson came to be a hero. He fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat, killing multiple German soldiers and rescuing a fellow soldier while experiencing 21 wounds.

For his battlefield valor, Johnson became one of the first Americans to be awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme, France’s highest award for valor. Upon his discharge, the Army used Johnson’s image to recruit new soldiers (Sgt. Johnson’s heroics were also used as a recruitment tool in World War II) and to sell Victory War Stamps. (“Henry Johnson licked a dozen Germans. How many stamps have you licked?”) Former President Theodore Roosevelt called Johnson one of the “five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I.

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Johnson returned home from his tour and was unable to return to his pre-war position as a railroad porter, due to the severity of his combat injuries. Johnson’s inability to hold down a job led him to drink. It didn’t take long for his wife and three children to leave. Veterans Bureau records show that a “permanent and total disability” rating was granted to Johnson on September 16, 1927 as a result of tuberculosis. Additional Veterans Bureau records refer to Johnson receiving monthly compensation and regular visits by Veterans Bureau medical personnel until his death.

He died of myocarditis, destitute, in 1929 at age 32 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Johnson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002; President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor in 2015.  Sgt. Johnson’s Medal of Honor Citation is found below.

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