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KellyGram – The Forgotten Heroes

 

 

As many of you know, I have the honor of serving on the Richland County Airport Commission for the Jim Hamilton – L.B. Owens Airport in downtown Columbia. Being on the Commission has taught me a tremendous amount about Columbia’s community and economy, and at our most recent meeting, I received a lesson on the town’s history and unsung heroes when the 371st Infantry Regiment WWI Memorial Monument Association presented the Commission with a fundraiser proposal. While no plans have been finalized with regard to the Airport, I found the presentation so impressive that I’m eager to share the organization’s cause and its backstory in this week’s KellyGram.

The 371st Infantry Regiment WWI Memorial Monument Association is a nonprofit organization created for the purpose of funding and placing a monument in Columbia—ideally on the State House grounds—memorializing the service and sacrifice of the 371st Infantry Regiment during WWI. This Regiment, formed in August 1917, was made up of southern, African-American draftees who trained at Camp Jackson in Columbia, SC until April 1918, when they were sent to the Western Front. There, the 371st trained under French command, learning the ally army’s equipment and tactics, then joined French forces on the front line in June 1918. In September, after three months in the trenches, the 371st troops were pulled to fight in the final great offensive in Champagne. The Regiment was said to be at the forefront of this battle and suffered heavy casualties; however, the soldiers captured miles of German-held territory in a matter of days, seized considerable enemy munitions, and managed to bring down three German planes with only gunfire. As a driving force in the war’s final offensive, the entire 371st Infantry Regiment received the Croix de Guerre, a French military award honoring valor and extraordinary service.

Upon their return to Columbia in 1919, the city of Columbia hosted a community reception for the Regiment troops, honoring their heroism and courage on the front line. But over the last century, the story of the 371st Infantry Regiment has become a forgotten piece of our town’s history. It is the goal of the 371st Infantry Regiment WWI Memorial Monument Association to restore the memory of these extraordinary men, and my hat goes off to Sonya Grantham and Russell Wolfe, Jr., Chairwoman and Treasurer of the Association, for their efforts and dedication to memorializing South Carolina’s unsung heroes.

To learn more about the 371st Infantry Regiment or to make a donation toward the monument in their honor, visit the website for the 371st Infantry Regiment WWI Memorial Monument Association here.

Have a blessed weekend! 

 

Mike Kelly

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