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Black History Month is an opportunity to recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by African American veterans who have served our country with distinction. From the Civil War to the present day, these heroes have broken barriers, made history and, in some instances, sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Take a closer look at their stories of service and valor.
Civil War: U.S. Army Sgt. William H. Carney
Born into slavery, Carney secretly was schooled despite restrictions banning Blacks from learning to read and write. In March 1863, he joined the Union Army and that July, during a charge on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, his unit’s color guard was shot. Carney caught the falling U.S. flag and held it upright, never letting it touch the ground despite sustaining gunshot wounds and nearly losing his life. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions.
World War I: U.S. Army Sgt. Henry Johnson
Johnson was a member of the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, during World War I. He suffered 21 combat injuries during a surprise German attack while on night duty in France. Despite the wounds, he managed to protect his fellow soldiers from capture using only a knife. Johnson was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme, the country’s highest award for valor.
World War II: U.S. Navy Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris “Dorie” Miller
During the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, Miller, a cook on the USS West Virginia, manned a machine gun despite having no training and successfully fired at Japanese aircraft. For his bravery, he was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross.
Korean War: U.S. Army Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton
Charlton took charge of his platoon when its leader was injured and had to be evacuated. Despite receiving a serious chest wound, Charlton refused medical treatment and led a third charge against the enemy, saving many soldiers in his platoon. He died of his wounds and posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Vietnam War: Pfc. Milton Olive III
Olive made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War to save the lives of his comrades. When a grenade was thrown into the midst of his unit, Olive quickly grabbed it and fell on it, costing him his life. He was the first African American to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War.
Gulf War: Gen. Colin Powell
After serving two tours in Vietnam, Powell was the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overseeing Operation Desert Storm and ultimately the defeat of Iraq. He would in 2000 become the first Black secretary of state, nominated by George W. Bush. He received numerous military awards and decorations, including recognition from over two dozen countries.