Garvey James, a 35-year old post office clerk who served with the 548th Engineer Service Battalion – cutting firewood for American Soldiers in France after World War I ended – re-enlisted in the 369th Infantry in May 1924. But the Jamaica native apparently decided he was tired of part-time military service; in January 1927 he was dropped from the roles for “desertion.” He stopped showing up for training.
And 29-year-old Arthur Curtiss was a fountain pen buffer – keeping the nibs on expensive fountain pens working – and a U.S. Navy veteran of World War I (service from 1916-19) when he re-enlisted in 369th Infantry Regiment in April 1928. Curtiss was reduced from corporal to private March 1930 but was then promoted to sergeant in August 1930 before being honorably discharged in 1931.
These stories, and 2,593 more about members of New York’s historic 369th Infantry Regiment – recently featured in the Max Brooks graphic novel “The Harlem Hellfighters” – are now available online.
The 369th Infantry – originally formed as the 15th regiment of the New York National Guard – was one of the few black regiments that saw combat during World War I. The segregated United States Army didn’t want the African-American Soldiers, but the French did, and the men of the 369th earned a regimental Croix de Guerre from the French government and hundreds of individual medals during 191 days in the front lines.
When the Soldiers came home from France, the 369th once again became part of the New York National Guard and information about Soldiers’ service in the 369th – first as infantrymen and then as coast artillerymen when the unit was reorganized – was recorded on a document called a regimental personnel card.
New York State Military Museum staffers found more than 10,000 of these cards, dating from 1921 to 1949, as they were going through old records maintained at the New York National Guard’s Harlem Armory, now the home of the 369th Sustainment Brigade, said Jim Gandy, the museum’s librarian.
Thanks to assistance from New York’s 3R’s library councils – a nonprofit that works with libraries to improve library services – and a network of Military Museum volunteers, 2,596 of the cards have been scanned, the information organized on a spreadsheet, and uploaded to the New York State Heritage Digital Collections Website (http://www.nyheritage.org).
The goal is to make these materials, and those from other libraries and museums available to people around the state and eventually around the country, said Susan D’Entremont, digital project manager for the Capital District Library Council.
The New York Military Museum has already posted Civil War Soldier photographs on the Heritage Digital Collections site. Those pages are very popular and very commented on, D’Entremont said.