Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Honor WWI Veterans

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Honor WWI Veterans

I was pleased to see the photo of the Ebony Doughboys on the front page of the Feb. 22 Gazette Packet as part of your coverage of the Feb. 19 George Washington Parade. This re-enactor group was invited to participate since 2018 is the 100th Anniversary of the end of WWI.

The Doughboys re-enact the 369th Infantry Regiment known in WWI as the 15th New York National Guard Regiment. This unit spent 191 days under fire, never losing a foot of ground or had a member taken prisoner. The 369th — also known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” “Black Rattlers,” and “Men of Bronze” — earned many awards including the French Croix de Guerre.

Two Alexandrians, Private William Thomas and Private Chris Cloxom, were members of the 369th and were killed on Sept. 28, 1918 in the Meuse Argonne Offensive. They are buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.

In WWI most African Americans soldiers were assigned to military support and not combat units because of national and US Army racial segregation policies. The 369th was a rare exception and allowed to fight under French command. They wore French uniforms and fought with French arms. However, they were Americans to the core distinguishing themselves as one of the United States’ most successful fighting units. The Doughboys participation in our parade also honored the 40 plus other Alexandrians who died in military service in WWI.

Thanks to research by city staff and volunteers, over 40 Alexandrians have now been identified as dying in military service in WWI. Over 400 Alexandrians also served in the military and countless others as civilian workers.

Hopefully the City of Alexandria will permanently memorialize the sacrifice by name of Alexandrians who died in military service at the WWI monument adjacent to the city-owned Union Station. The plaque on the column is dedicated to those who died in the Great War without specific names. These names now need to be added. If not in 2018, when?

Bill Dickinson

Resident, citizen and veteran