Though some Parisians had heard American jazz music before, the syncopated beats were likely new to Brest, a port town in Brittany. Renamed the U. But General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe, soon offered the th to the French army to solve a political problem. The French and British were demanding American reinforcements for their badly depleted divisions. Yet Pershing made an exception for the black soldiers of the th, reassigning them to the French on March Our great American general simply put the black orphan in a basket, set it on the doorstep of the French, pulled the bell, and went away.
At the front on July 15, the th withstood heavy bombardment as Germany launched the Second Battle of the Marne, its final offensive of the war. The Hellfighters took part in the French counterattack, losing 14 members of the regiment, with 51 more sustaining injuries. We would rather face the Germans to come over the top than to have their shells. As part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, in which more than a million American and French troops attacked the German lines, the th suffered some of the worst casualties suffered by an American regiment in the war, with killed and almost 1, wounded.
Histories of the regiment say the troops spent days on the front, more than any other Americans. On February 17, , a massive crowd filled Fifth Avenue for a victory parade honoring the Hellfighters. Johnson himself became a champion for his fellow troops, testifying before the New York legislature in early in support of a bill to give veterans a preference in government hiring.
But he soon tired of public speaking. Instead, after a fiery speech in St. Louis in March , in which he accused white soldiers of racism and cowardice, Johnson disappeared from the public sphere.
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