NEW YORK – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced today that Col. David Martinez, an Albany resident and veteran of the Iraq War, has been named to command the New York Army National Guard’s historic 369th Sustainment Brigade. Nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters” and based in New York City, the unit traces its lineage back to the African-American soldiers of the 15th New York Infantry formed just before the United States entered World War I.
“The Harlem Hellfighters are one of the most storied units in American military history,” Cuomo said. “Its soldiers fought proudly and distinguished themselves in World War I, and also served with distinction during World War II, Desert Storm, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am proud to announce that Col. Martinez will be taking command of this honored group as he continues to protect and serve the people of New York.”
During World War I, the unit was renumbered as the 369th Infantry Regiment by the Army and fought under French command because American commanders did not trust African-American soldiers at that time.
The 369th, which is the subject of the recent Max Brooks graphic novel “The Harlem Hellfighters,” served more than six months on the front lines during World War I, sustained 1,500 casualties, and its soldiers received 171 Legion of Honor or Croix de Guerre awards from the French government.
Albany native Henry Johnson, who became famous for defeating a German patrol during an engagement in May 1918, was a member of the 369th. The unit’s band – made up of professional African-American musicians – is also famous for introducing American jazz music to Europe.