The Medal of Honor: It’s the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of the armed forces. The recipient must have distinguished themselves at the risk of their own life above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the United States.
It’s an honor that’s only been awarded a little over 3,500 times since the decoration’s creation in 1861. Only 90 Medals of Honor have been awarded to African Americans.
In spite of their valorous deeds, some African American were denied the Medal of Honor due to their race. As an example, no Medals of Honor were originally awarded to Black soldiers who served in World War II. However after a 1993 study commissioned by the United States Army, seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Black soldiers.
A review of the Medal of Honor process has been conducted for every U.S. conflict after 1941, but no such review has occurred for WWI. Now, a team from the Park University George S. Robb Centre for the Study of the Great War are spearheading a Medal of Honor review process for minority WWI Soldiers.
The inspiration for this project stems from the university’s 2016 Spencer Cave Black History Month lecture that featured a discussion about the role a White Park alumnus and World War I hero played as the leader of the mostly Black 369th Regiment of New York (known as the “Harlem Hellfighters”).
Despite comprising two combat divisions, including the “Harlem Hellfighters,” which logged more combat days and casualties than any other American regiment, none of the more than 367,000 African-Americans soldiers who served in the World War I received the Medal of Honor.
To be eligible for the review, a veteran must have received a Distinguished Service Cross and/or received / been recommended for a Medal of Honor or the French Croix de Guerre with palm.
Additionally, the veteran must be African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Jewish- American or Native American.
The Valor Medals Review Task Force is comprised of volunteer scholars and veterans prepared to complete the records collection phase of the project using private donations. Park University was the driving force behind the bipartisan bills introduced in Congress and the Senate in April to authorize the review of the records. The goal of the Task Force is to conduct their research at no cost to the military.
The project is expected to take five to seven years to complete.