NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - As was the case for African American men during the First World War, Richard O. Goines was officially barred from any combat role.
It didn’t stop Goines from signing up. And so he became one of 250 men from New Jersey who served in the decorated “Harlem Hellfighters,” a segregated "colored" unit, officially called the 369th Infantry Regiment.
Inevitably, the Harlem Hellfighters and the thousands of men who passed through the regiment ended up on the front lines during the last six months of the war.
Eight other men from New Brunswick served in the regiment, but Goines was special: he earned one of France’s highest military honors during the Great War: the Croix de guerre (War Cross).
Just shy of a thousand Americans were given the honor, out of the 4.5 million soldiers from the United States who served, according to Middlesex County native Richard Sears Walling. The lion’s share of medals, more than 2 million, were given to Frenchmen.
A retired hight school history teacher and independent historian, Walling said he’s on a mission to document the story of the Harlem Hellfighters and men like Goines.
Unit regimental supply company, circa 1918. Credit: Courtesy of Richard Sears Walling
“Being a Jersey guy, I was really interested in researching the role of Jersey men in the regiment, and there were over 250 Jersey men who served,” Walling said.
“When I see a man who particularly jumps out at me, I profile them,” Walling added.
The Harlem Hellfighters started out as the 15th National Guard Regiment, which had its armory in the Harlem neighborhood.
“I’m just fascinated with the Jersey men who served in this regiment,” Walling said. “They included Native American men, the Ramapough men of North Jersey, and eight of them served from New Brunswick.”
Goines, born on Jan. 18, 1893 in North Carolina, signed up in 1917 when the United States entered the global conflict.
At the time, he was living with his wife on Delavan Street and working as the chauffeur for Dr. Jacob G. Lipman, then-director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, now operated by Rutgers University.
The regiment didn’t see combat at first, but rather, they were bounced around from one post to another across the country, akin to a game of hot potato.
Credit: Courtesy of Richard Sears Walling
“The US Army was extremely segregated and racist at the time,” Walling noted.
Eventually, the regiment was shipped to France, where the men were put to work as laborers and support personnel.
“After two months of doing labor work, the French had been so desperate of replacing troops, the US Army command structure, particularly Gen. John Pershing, said ‘you want men, I have this regiment, I’ll give you this regiment’,” Walling said.
That was March 1918. For the next six months, the Harlem Hellfighters were constantly at the front line.
The regiment served alongside the French army. They wore American uniforms and used U.S. flags, but were issued French equipment and weapons.
The men were issued the French “M15 Adrian helmet,” a crude version of the modern military helmet. It washanded out to the millions of Frechmen who fought in the war.
Over the course of the regiment’s tour, the military unit cycled between 2,000-5,000 men, first made up mainly of volunteers, but then by draftees, as the war progressed.
“Sixty percent of the regiment was made up of draftee replacement men from across the country, guys from California, Montana, the southwest and the Deep South,” Walling said. “And because of that, local newspapers, say from Savannah, Georgia or New Orleans, they’d run articles about local boys who were serving in this regiment."
There were 171 men in the Harlem Hellfighters given the Croix de guerre, out of the1,000 US men to whom it was awarded. The entire regiment was also issued a unit-wide Croix de guerre, Walling said.
“They were one of the most decorated U.S regiments,” Walling said.
Goines’ award was issued for “individual bravery under fire.” Walling suspected it was for actions taken in September 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a massive Allied assault against the German front lines.
“He was in the supply company, he was humping ammunition from the rear lines to the front lines,” Walling said. “He was exposed to artillery fire, machine gun fire, gas, planes. Whatever he did as a soldier was so brave that individually he received the cross.”
Goines returned to the United States in 1919, where he spent some time at his father’s home in Orlando, FL., according to newspaper clippings.
He then became active in local veterans affairs and worked in the athletics department of the New Brunswick school system.
Towards the end of the 1920s, he relocated to Montclair, and then in 1954, to San Bernardino, CA., where he stayed until his death on Sept. 20, 1983.
Goines’ story wasn’t the only one Walling wanted to highlight. There was another man from New Brunswick, Archibald “Archie” Redd, who served in the Harlem Hellfighters.
Sept. 8, 1918 edition of the New Brunswick Sunday Times. Credit: Courtesy of Richard Sears Walling
Redd’s parents, who hailed from Virginia, gave birth to Archie in New Brunswick on June 14, 1889. During the next few decades before the war, Redd moved around the city.
When he signed up at the age of 27, Redd was employed at the Heldingsfields New Brunswick printing office. Redd attained the rank of corporal before returning home at the end of the war.
Newspaper clippings show that he, Goines and two other soldiers, William Fitzgerald and Johnny Mason, were thrown a banquet hosted by the Ebenezer Baptist Church and Civic League of Colored Citizens.
In 1921, Redd and his wife, Cynthia, were among the founding members of the St. Alban’s Episcopal Church of New Brunswick.
Years later, he became active in the Middlesex County Area American Legion, along with officers from towns around New Brunswick, and held the rank of Sergeant-at-Arms.
Redd passed away in 1960, leaving his Hamilton Street residence to his sister. Many of the immediate family of Goines and Redd have since passed away.
Credit: Courtesy of Richard Sears Walling
But Walling said he wants to continue keeping the memory of these men alive, and over the years, was involved with lectures detailing theit stories.
One such lecture, part of the county’s 2018 Black History Month Celebration, will feature keynote speaker Dr. Jeffrey Sammons, a history professor at New York University, who will discuss the Harlem Hellfighters in detail.
Sammons is co-author of Harlem’s Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality.
That event, free and open to the public, is scheduled for Feb. 16, 12:30 p.m. in the jury room of the Middlesex County Courthouse at 56 Bayard St.