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106th Rescue Wing Recognizes African American Contributions, Past and Present

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Monica Dalberg
  • 106th Rescue Wing
WESTHAMPTON BEACH, NY- African Americans have long fought for their country,
but their contributions are too often overlooked, a retired Air Force Reserve Colonel, and former head of the New York City Office of Veterans Affairs told members of the 106th Rescue Wing Saturday, February 6th, 2016.

Colonel Terrance Holiday, who had one uncle who served with the famed Tuskegee Airmen-the all black 332nd Fighter Group-during World War II, and another who fought with the 369th Infantry, the Harlem Hellfighters, during World War I, told wing members that there is so much more to learn concerning the roles that African Americans played in the military.

"My hope is that after today you go home and talk to your friends, your family. You research some of these things," said Holiday. "Everyone in the Air Force knows about the Tuskegee Airmen. There are other organizations that did a great deal of work in World War I, and no one knows about them," said Holiday.

Holiday's talk was part of the 106th Rescue Wing's celebration of National African American History Month which also included an archival video presentation, and musical performers.

The purpose of National African American History Month in February is to highlight contributions African Americans have made throughout the history of our country, their struggle for freedom and equality, and to deepen the understanding of our own history as a nation. According to Senior Master Sgt. Lindsay Cunningham, the Wing Human Resources Advisor, the 106th Rescue Wing Diversity Council has presented a program to members in observation of the month for some 20 years.

New York City dancers, Instruments of Praise Dance Troupe and singers of the Harlem Renaissance Choir, named in homage to the cultural, social, and artistic revival that took place in Harlem in the 20s and 30s, performed for wing members.

Wing member, Senior Airman Dwayne Morgan, produced a video for the presentation, featuring the all-black regiment, often overlooked, according to Holiday.

The Harlem Hellfighters - originally the 15 New York National Guard -- spent more combat time in World War I than any other American unit. Despite their dedication, courage and sacrifice, unit members returned home to face continued racism and segregation from their white military counterparts and fellow countrymen.

Holliday spoke about discrimination of various African American soldiers in World War I.

He specifically spoke about the Harlem Hellfighter's, Sergeant Henry Johnson. Along with his unit, Johnson was brigaded with a French army colonial in front-line combat. Johnson was awarded the French Croix de Guerre (Palm and Star), the highest award for valor in France.

Upon completion of his tour and return home, the undecorated Johnson was unable to continue his prior work as a porter due to 21 combat injuries, and died at 37 in 1929. The United States posthumously awarded Johnson the Purple Heart in 1996, the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002 and the Medal of Honor in June 2015.

"We continually uncover and recognize contributions of our African American military members in history," said 106th Rescue Commander, Colonel Thomas J. Owens II.

"The presentation was received very positively by the base community," Cunningham, said.

"It's important to remember African American history is also American history. Everyone should be knowledgeable about those who came before us," added Cunningham.