American Legion supports review of minorities' WWI valor medals
By Matt Grills
via the American Legion Magazine, February 2019 issue
With American Legion support, a group of volunteers is proposing the first-ever review of World War I veterans who may have been denied a Medal of Honor due to racial or ethnic discrimination.
Established by the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission, the Valor Medals Review Task Force is starting with the records of approximately 70 African-American soldiers -- in particular, those worthy of the nation's highest military award who may have been downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross or received a French Croix de Guerre with palm.
"We're not going in with any number in mind," says Jeffrey Sammons, professor of history at New York University and co-author of "Harlem's Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality."
"We want this to be as unbiased and apolitical as possible, and to let the evidence lead us where it may."
The U.S. military conducted reviews of valor awards for minority veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and all subsequent conflicts, but not those who served in World War I. The posthumous awarding of Medals of Honor to Cpl. Freddie Stowers in 1991 and Sgt. Henry Johnson in 2015 set a precedent for challenging the postwar review conducted in 1919, which resulted in zero Medal of Honor awards for black veterans and few for other minorities.
At its 100th National Convention in Minneapolis in August, The American Legion passed Resolution No. 109, which calls for legislation lifting statutes of limitation and other obstacles that may impede proper review of minority veterans' World War I records that support consideration for a Medal of Honor.
The initiative can be traced to a lecture given by Sammons at Park University in Missouri, home of the George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War. Two years ago, Timothy Westcott, the center's director, invited Sammons to speak on Robb, a white officer with the 369th Regiment and 1912 Park University alum who received a Medal of Honor for leading an assault near Sechault, France, while severely wounded.
Read the entire article on the American Legion Magazine web site.
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