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The birth of the 'blue helmet'

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BerichtGeplaatst: 13 Dec 2011 23:23    Onderwerp: The birth of the 'blue helmet' Reageer met quote


To this day the insignia of the United States 93rd Infantry Division is a blue French Adrian helmet against a black background, but few people know why. The reason for this choice is tied to the segregationist policies of the United States military during World War I (1914-1918), and the experience of black American soldiers on the Western Front.

When Woodrow Wilson and the American Congress declared war against Germany and Austria in 1916, it was a commitment to place the full force of the United States military, industry, and labor force at the disposal of the war effort. This doctrine of Total War required the participation of every American citizen regardless of race, gender, or class. The resulting mobilization created vast domestic and social changes: including the migration of southern blacks to the industrial north and the inclusion of women in the industrial workforce.1

Large swaths of young men joined the military, seeking to fulfill their patriotic duty. Many of those volunteers were black Americans who saw the war as an opportunity to display their loyalty to the United States and their own valiance and worth to a nation plagued by institutional racism.2 In order to meet the massive manpower needs of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), President Wilson introduced a universal male selective service registration. Men, regardless of race, were drafted into the United States military in previously unseen numbers. Of the 24 million men who registered, one in ten was selected for service in the AEF and sent to Europe.3

Even with the need for national unity to ensure total participation, black American soldiers were subjected to unrelenting racism as they were drafted and volunteered to serve their country. Black Americans were drafted in disproportionately high numbers. While blacks constituted only ten percent of the male population who registered for the draft, 12.5 percent of all soldiers drafted happened to be black. Many of the Armyís training centers were constructed in the American south for climate purposes, and as a result all black servicemen were subjected to oppressive Jim Crowe legislation. This condition tasted bitter to northern blacks not used to that level of institutional racism.4

Racism in the Army only added to black soldiers misery. 6,000 drafted black stevedores arrived at Camp Hill, Virginia, to find no barracks, mess halls, sanitary facilities or clothing. They spent the winter is tents, on the bare ground, with the only heat coming from fire pits. Worse still, the white NCOs (non-commissioned officers) were often selected for their ďexperienceĒ dealing with blacks. This included those who worked in traditionally oppressive southern agricultural industries, including sharecropper plantations and turpentine factories. Some were intentionally selected for willingness to physically abuse black soldiers.5

Military policy also restricted most black soldiers to menial labor positions. Only one in five black soldiers sent to the Western Front ever saw combat.6 Those who did were placed in disorganized segregated units. The Army made it policy to never allow these units to train as a full division and much of the esprit de corps, camaraderie, and identity that came from constituting a large unit was lost. Even the white officers overseeing these divisions suffered from this choice. Much of their time was spent traveling amidst training facilities and most senior officers never saw their own troops.7 Members of the 92nd Infantry Division suffered from these policies. The 92nd never assembled as whole division and one Generalís looming threat that ďwhite men made the Division, and white men can break it just as easily if it becomes a troublemaker,Ē created animosity between the officers and troops.8

Regardless of these setbacks, black soldiers in the segregated 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions fought valiantly while being under-equipped and rushed to the Front. The black soldiers in the 93rd found themselves without proper equipment, and no American Model 1917 helmets. Because the division fought as individual regiments supporting separate French forces, the black soldiers were given sky blue Model 1915 French Adrians.9 The black soldiers fought alongside French forces in the 2nd Battle of the Marne, playing a crucial role in repelling the German attack.10 From then on the 93rd Infantry Division was associated with their service on the Western Front, as split segregated units, working alongside the French Army and wearing foreign Adrian helmets.

@ Daniel Roberts
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