Memorial Day Services: Montclair 2016

The Montclair community shines a light on the heroic efforts of the 369th infantry of WW1.

Memorial Day service honors the Harlem Hellfighters in Edgemont Park.

memorial day
Photo courtesy of Theadora Lecour.

On Mon. May 30th, Montclair’s Department of Cultural Affairs will join forces with the Department of Parks and Recreation to honor some U.S. soldiers who have not received the recognition they deserve. The Memorial Day ceremony celebrates the American Legion Crawford Crews Post 291 and the Harlem Hellfighters—the 369th infantry during WW1.

Due to segregation within the U.S. military, thousands of Black American soldiers were not permitted to fight alongside their brothers in arms. They were, however, permitted to aid U.S. allies in France or Canada during WW1’s historic battles. Their services overseas were a vital portion of France’s military forces and critical to the victories of U.S. allies. “Hellfighters” was a nickname given to the troops by the Germans, in light of the voracity and determination of these men. The fact that the 369th infantry was an all-black regiment would influence the political discussion about segregation within the military and the United States as a whole.

This Memorial Day, the French consulate, Montclair’s mayor, police department, veterans and community band will all come together to honor the Harlem Hellfighters and present a plaque of recognition to the American Legion Crawford Crews Post 291.

“Two gentlemen, Mr. Ed Harris, historian for the Crawford Crews and Mr. Irving Geddis approached me with the idea of honoring the Harlem Hellfighters” stated Director of Recreational Services, Pat Brechka. “The recognition is well overdue. Nobody knows about this part of history and it’s exciting to represent it in our town. It’s important to remember Memorial Day and who the holiday truly honors—the veterans. Residents in the town can come out for half an hour on Monday morning. It means a lot to older veterans as well as the young ones who are just returning home.”

To compliment this year’s honorees, the television documentary, “Men of Bronze” will be airing on channel 34, Montclair’s local station. The program details this chapter of U.S. military history and will run throughout Memorial Day weekend.

The American Legion Crawford Crews Post 291 located at 210 Bloomfield Avenue will be home to the awarded plaque. The service is relevant to all U.S. veterans, especially those members of Crawford Crews who currently reside in Montclair, New Jersey. This year’s services will take place Mon. May 30th at 10am on the island in Edgemont Park.

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