“And They Thought We Couldn’t Fight:”* Remembering the Nine Soldiers in a World War I Photograph

Today’s Blog is written by Barbara Lewis Burger, a retired National Archives Still Picture Senior Archivist

369th all

New York’s Colored Regiment Returns Home on Stockholm. Some of the colored men on 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action. Front row, left to right: Private Eagle Eye, Ed Williams; Lamp Light, Herbert Tayl; 12 Feb, 1919 (NAID 26431282detail of photo scan

The above photograph of nine World War I soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment is one of several iconic photographs in the National Archives and Records Administration that document African American soldiers during the war. This particular image has been widely reproduced in print and broadcast media, and on the internet. The photograph (Local ID 165-WW-127A-8/ NAID 26431282) is from the series, American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917-1918 (NAID 533461) in the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165.

The image was taken on board the USAT Stockholm on February 12, 1919, as the soldiers of the 369th and other African American troops returning home following the Armistice, awaited disembarkation in New York City. The 369th’s service in the war began over one hundred years ago on April 2, 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson asked a joint session of Congress to issue a declaration of war against the German Empire. In two days, both houses had voted to support the declaration. In the spring and summer, the nine men in the photograph, eager to join the war, volunteered with the 15th Regiment Infantry (Colored) of the New York National Guard. Later that winter, within days of the United States declaring war on December 7th against Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary, the troops of the 15th Infantry set sail on the USS Pocahontas. The ship was bound for the port city of Brest, France and the soldiers were destined for their place in history.  Two months later, on March 1, 1918, the regiment was reorganized and designated the 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division.

The history of the regiment is well researched and documented, including its ill treatment and under-utilization by American forces in France. At the time, many Americans, including military leaders, believed African Americans lacked the intelligence and courage to fight. In the summer of 1918 the regiment was integrated into French forces to help replenish its forces and soon faced combat. The 369th proved the skeptics wrong and went on to achieve a remarkable combat record: they served more time in continuous combat than any other American unit — the regiment fought for 191 days on the front, the longest of any unit; never lost a man captured; never lost a foot of ground to the Germans; and was the first Allied unit to cross the Rhine River during the Allied offensive. In recognition of its bravery under fire, the French government awarded the regiment with the country’s military decoration, the Croix de Guerre. In addition, 171 men of the regiment were also presented with an individual Croix de Guerre for their valor. Several soldiers were also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The 369th was not the only black World War I regiment, nor the only one to fight valiantly, but it is perhaps the most famous. Each soldier in this photograph, who is identified in an accompanying caption, is wearing the Croix de Guerre pinned to his garment. Also visible on the left sleeves of several are two War Service Chevrons signifying a year of service in the theater of operations.

The names of the soldiers are known, but who are they? After years of being intrigued by this handsomely composed image and the demeanor of the nine brave men in it, I decided to find out as much information as I could about their lives—to discover the real people behind the faces in the photograph. I chose to confine my research to public (federal and state) records that are available through the internet. I selected to access documentation—primarily U.S. Army and New York National Guard records, and Veterans Affairs burial files—through the genealogical databases Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. Official Military Personnel Files and Department of Veterans Affairs benefit claim files are not available online and consequently were excluded from research. As may be expected, the amount of information I was able to discover varied from person to person.

My quest began with the soldier who first caught my eye. He is on the back row leaning forward, looking war-weary and tough as nails. He also appears older than the other men. As it turns out, as a sergeant, he is the highest-ranking and oldest man in the group.

Sgt Daniel Storms

Sgt. Daniel Storms, Jr. (detail)

Daniel W. Storms, Jr. was about 33 years old when he enlisted on May 8, 1917, as a private in Company A of the 15th New York Regiment. He was subsequently promoted to sergeant on December 4, 1918. A few days after his return from the war, he was honorably discharged on February 24, 1919. Interestingly, his brother Joseph also served with the 369th and also returned safely to New York City on board another ship. After serving bravely, Dan Storms returned to his family and found work in New York City as a janitor and an elevator operator.

Daniel W. Storms, Jr. was born about 1885 in Stamford, Connecticut to Daniel W. Storms, Sr. and Esther (Essie) Walton (according to the sergeant’s New York City death certificate).  Prior to the war, Storms worked as a hostler and house cleaner. By 1915, he is listed in the New York State Census as living in New York City and married to Amy (spelling varies) Price, a widow with a young daughter named Hazel Price. They also lived in Stamford, Connecticut in the early 1900’s. Mrs. Storms appears to have died in 1951 and her daughter Hazel died in 1924.  Like so many in the early twentieth century, Mr. Storms contracted tuberculosis and after a year, according to his death record, succumbed to the disease on February 28, 1922. He was buried four days later in Woodland Cemetery in Stamford, Connecticut.  Daniel Storms is also one of four men in the photograph who was also honored with an individual Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action.

Far left and leaning against the railing behind Storms’s right shoulder is Henry Davis Primas, Sr.

HD Primas

Henry Primas (detail)

He is also a recipient of an individual Croix de Guerre for bravery in action. Henry Primas enlisted on November 16, 1917, with the 15th New York and was later assigned as a private to the 369th’s Medical Detachment. That Primas graduated in 1914 with a degree in pharmacy from the University of Pittsburgh, undoubtedly was a factor in his assignment to the Medical Detachment. He was a private with Company I when he set sail on the Pocahontas.  Pvt. Primas was honorably discharged February 24, 1919. That May, Henry Primas discussed his war service at a church program in his hometown of Charleroi, Pennsylvania and was referred to as sergeant in an article in The Charleroi Mail. Online abstracts of his National Guard documents, unfortunately, do not indicate a promotion and his grade at demobilization was private. Perhaps surviving military records will provide clarification.

Primas’s mother was Annette Wilson Primas and his father, Meshach Primas, was a native of Virginia, who moved to southwestern Pennsylvania in 1875. After the war, Henry Primas returned home to his family. The following year he married Frances Jeffreys and later had a son. Mr. Primas worked as a druggist and was also retired from the U.S. Post Office Department. After suffering from heart disease for a several years, H. D. Primas died at the age of 66 of cardiac insufficiency on May 3, 1961. He was buried in Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A granite U.S. government-furnished marker imprinted with his service information was placed on his grave.  His wife, Frances Primas died five years later and their son Henry Davis Primas, Jr. died a year after his mother.  The heroism Henry Davis Primas showed in World War I has not been forgotten. His name is to be inscribed with the names of other veterans from western Pennsylvania on the Donora (Pennsylvania) Veterans Memorial.

At the other end (far right) of the back row is Corporal T. W. Taylor.

Cpl TW Taylor

Cpl. Tyler Taylor (detail)

With only first and middle name initials, identifying Cpl. Taylor required a little resourcefulness. After several futile attempts at first names — Thomas, Theodore, Tyrone, etc. — I consulted the New York Military Museum and Veterans Research Center’s online database of enlistment cards and searched all of the Taylors until I found the corporal. The physical description of the enlistee on the card also fits the person photographed.  In addition, a 1919 article (online) in The New York Age describing a dinner in honor of Corporal Tyler W. Taylor, a Croix de Guerre winner, and fellow soldiers further confirmed I had found the correct person—Cpl. Tyler William Taylor, the third recipient of an individual Croix de Guerre.

Born to Lee and Luvina Hairston Taylor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on July 5, 1895, T. W. Taylor at a young age moved to New York City with his mother and stepfather. According to the 1915 New York State Census, he was employed as a chauffeur with the Post Office.  He enlisted in the 15th New York as a cook, was promoted to private in September 1917, and made corporal in December 1918.  As had his fellow infantrymen, he served overseas from December 1917 to February 1919.  T. W. Taylor is listed on the Stockholm manifest as a member of Company B of the 369th Infantry and was honorably discharged on February 24, 1919. Just months after his return, Mr. Taylor married Idell Reeves on April 30, 1919. Their daughter Vivienne was born a year later.  Details of Taylor’s life after 1920 are less clear. He and his family are recorded in the 1925 New York State Census. The 1930 U.S. Population Census lists him as a cook on a steamship. He also appears on the 1930 U.S. Census of Merchant Seamen as a third messman on the SS Seminole (Clyde Steamship Company). T. W. Taylor and his wife divorced in 1934. I found a Tyler Taylor on the 1940 Census living in Fairfield, Connecticut and working as a butler. Even though the race of that person was recorded as white, there is a good possibility that he was T. W. Taylor. When Mr. Taylor reenlisted in with the 15th National Guard in 1947, he was described as having a light complexion with gray eyes. Tyler William Taylor lived a long life and died on February 24, 1983, in Bayonne, New Jersey at the age of 86.  Both his former wife and daughter predeceased him.

Seated next to Cpl. Taylor is Pvt. Alfred S. Manley.

alfred manley

Pvt. Alfred Manley (detail)

His surname in the photograph caption, however, is Hanley. It soon became apparent after initial searches failed to reveal the identity of a member of the 369th with that name that the last name was probably misspelled.  The Stockholm passenger register does not list an Alfred S. “Hanley” and so I searched the manifest for an Alfred S. with a similarly spelled surname. The odds favor Pvt. Alfred S. Manley who was born in 1895 in Powhatan, Virginia.  As other African Americans had in the early 1900’s, his family migrated north. By 1910, they were living in New Jersey.  At some point, Alfred Manley must have relocated, because his enlistment records list an address in New York City. He signed on as a private with Company B of the 15th New York on July 13, 1917, at the age of 19. The passenger list for the Pocahontas lists his sister Ophelia as a contact person.  Pvt. Manley’s moniker during the war was “Kid Buck.” In the 1930 census he was recorded as a living in Newark, New Jersey and working as a chauffeur for a laundry company. Alfred S. Manley died on April 16, 1933, and is buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Newark, New Jersey.  The U.S. government authorized a headstone for his gravesite that was carved with his World War I service information.

Pvt. Ralph Hawkins, nicknamed “Kid Hawk,” is pictured at the far right in the front row, is fourth of the 369th soldiers who was also awarded an individual Croix de Guerre.

ralph hawkins

Pvt. Ralph Hawkins (detail)

His medal included a bronze star (for heroism mentioned in dispatches at the regiment level).  Ralph Ernest Hawkins, who was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was nineteen when he enlisted in the 15th New York National Guard and was assigned as a private in Company C. He also sailed to Europe on the Pocahontas and served two years abroad. He was promoted to corporal in 1918 and demoted to private two months later. Pvt. Hawkins was honorably discharged from the 369th on February 24, 1919.  His father Frederick Hawkins in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is listed on ship manifests as his next-of-kin. Ralph Hawkins reenlisted in the New York National Guard in April 1919 and October 1922. Unfortunately, I was unable to discover much about Mr. Hawkins’s personal life before and after World War I. He apparently married Anita Gross in 1920 and soon had four children. The 1940 Census indicates that he was working as a laborer with the Works Progress Administration, but seemingly living apart from his family.  In 1942 Ralph Hawkins registered for the World War II draft. There is also a possibility that he was a patient in 1944 at a veteran’s hospital in Castle Point, New York. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania death records confirm that his parents lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and that his father Frederick died in 1936.  The death certificate for Ralph Hawkins indicates that he died in Philadelphia on January 8, 1951, and was to be buried in Merion Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. Anita Hawkins died in 1975 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  Nonetheless, more conclusive facts could lead to a more complete personal history of Pvt. Ralph Hawkins.

Next to Ralph Hawkins is Pvt. Leon E. Fraiter who was born November 11, 1892, in Charleston, South Carolina to Benjamin Fraiter and Ella Scott Fraiter.

leon fraiter

Pvt. Leon Fraiter (detail)

By 1911, the family, according to Episcopal Diocese church records, was residing in New York City. No further information was located until his enlistment in the National Guard in August 1917. Curiously, his National Guard enlistment records indicate he was 18 years old, putting into question his birthdate. Leon Fraiter was assigned to Company K of the 15th New York. Eventually he was transferred to Company A of the 369th, where he remained until his honorable discharge in 1919. The manifests for the Pocahontas and the Stockholm list his parents, who evidently had returned to South Carolina, as contacts. A few years after the war, Mr. Fraiter married Amy Wilkinson in 1924 in New York City.  Six years later he was recorded on the 1930 U.S. Population Census as having two sons and working as a salesman in a jewelry store.  His wife, sadly, died in 1937. Leon Fraiter was not found in online public records until almost four decades later following his death on December 9, 1974. Pvt. Fraiter was buried in Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York.  A photograph of Leon Fraiter in later years is attached to a family tree on Ancestry.com.

Third from the left on the back row is Pvt. Joe Williams, who was nicknamed “Kid Woney.”

Joe Williams

Pvt. Joe Williams (detail)

Identifying an individual with such commonly found given and surnames raised questions. First of all, is Joe the soldier’s given name, a diminutive, a nickname or a middle name? The passenger list for the Stockholm does include a “Joe Williams,” but his name is crossed out with a note that he was transferred to a hospital ship. I found only one other Pvt. Joseph Williams on the ship manifest and in National Guard muster roll abstracts for the 15th New York. That Joseph Williams served in the 369th with Company C and was slightly wounded in action on or about November 10, 1918. His National Guard records indicate that he was born in Savannah, Georgia, circa 1896. The Stockholm manifest lists his mother Mrs. Anna Williams of Savannah, Georgia (another common name and no street address was given) as the contact person. The Georgia-born Pvt. Joseph Williams appears to be the most likely person in the photograph. With multiple men with the same name, however, living in New York City, Savannah, and Philadelphia, I was unable to pinpoint the exact person. Additional evidence, such as military service records, may provide information about Pvt. Joseph Williams’s life before and after the war.

Finding Pvt. Ed Williams, who is pictured in the front at the far left, proved even more challenging.

ed williams

Pvt. Ed Williams (detail)

In trying to identify him I encountered the same problems I had with Joe Williams, but by many times. I counted five Pvt. Edward Williamses and two Edgar Williamses on the Stockholm manifest. Of those seven, only three were members of the 369th.  Two of the three were Headquarters staff.  One of the Edward Williams’ with the Headquarters staff fortuitously filed an application in 1919 for a Seaman’s Certificate of American Citizenship in which he indicated that he was 33 years old. He also submitted a photograph of himself.  His facial features, however, do not appear similar to the person in the group photograph. The second Headquarters serviceman, Pvt. Edward Williams, appears in the National Guard records as a 19-year old resident of New York City, who enlisted at Fort Slocum, New York. He was assigned to the Company K and later the Headquarters Staff of the 15th Infantry and sailed to France on the Pocahontas in December 1917. He named a friend as the contact person. Unfortunately, those two bits of information were not enough to enable me to distinguish him from other men with the same name.

The remaining Ed Williams is identified as a private in Company C.  Since the group photograph is composed of members of Companies B and C, I think there is a very good possibility that Edward Williams in Company C is the person pictured. He also shipped out in 1917 from Hoboken, New Jersey on the Pocahontas. According to the New York State National Guard abstracts, Pvt. Williams was severely wounded on September 30, 1918.  That date coincides with the period the 369th was engaged in fierce fighting in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and captured a key railroad unit near Séchault, France.

Edward Williams of Company C was born on February 5, 1898, in Charlotte, North Carolina to Love and Lucy Hall Williams. Upon his return from the war, Mr. Williams married Essie Blythe in Greenville County, South Carolina and found employment there. By 1940, he and his family were living in New York City. He died in Brooklyn, New York on April 21, 1993, at the age of 95. A photograph of an older Mr. Edward Williams is included in a family tree on Ancestry.com. Although the photograph shows a mature man, there is some similarity in facial features. As with Joe Williams, additional information may offer confirmation that he is the soldier in the photograph known as “Eagle Eye.”

The ninth soldier in the group is Pvt. Herbert Taylor, who is second from the left on the front row.

herbert taylor

Pvt. Herbert Taylor (detail)

As might be expected, many people with the same name or variations of it served in World War I. Only one such named person, though, who was assigned to the 369th regiment, sailed to the Western Front in December 1917 on the Pocahontas, and returned February 1919 on the Stockholm was found. Pvt. Herbert “Lamp Light” Taylor served with Company B and was slightly wounded on September 29, 1918, possibly during the battle for Séchault, France.  Both ship passenger lists record his mother, Mable Taylor, living in Newark, New Jersey, as next of kin.

Little additional information, however, was found about Pvt. Herbert Taylor. New York’s National Guard service records do offer snippets of information, including a birth date and place — December 15, 1896, in Newark, New Jersey. Census data for 1930 and a World War II draft registration card reference a Herbert Taylor with the same birth date and place living in New York City. With so many people with the same name, corroborating information is necessary to confirm that references pertain to the former soldier. Supporting documents, however, do indicate that Mr. Taylor reenlisted in 1941 in the 15th regiment for a two-year period and that he was living in New York City working as a laborer. Pvt. Herbert Taylor of the 369th Infantry died December 6, 1984, and was laid to rest in Long Island, New York at Calverton National Cemetery.

It is appropriate that 100 years after tens of thousands of African Americans enlisted to fight in the Great War that nine of those proud and brave soldiers are remembered in today’s blog.  And so, on Veterans Day 2017, let us join in remembering, honoring and thanking these men, and all of our veterans, for their service and sacrifices.

165-WW-127A-008


* From the title of a Victory Loan Poster by artist Clyde Forsythe, circa 1918

Selected Sources for further research:

Lists of Incoming Passengers, 1917-1938NAID: 6234465. Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985, Record Group 92. The National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

Lists of Outgoing Passengers, 1917-1938NAID: 6234477. RG 92. The National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Records of the Selective Service System, RG 163. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. M1509

Fourth Registration Draft Cards. Records of the Selective Service System, RG 147. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

Various Census Records. Records of the Bureau of the Census, RG 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

New York Guard Service Cards and Enlistment Records, 1906–1918, 1940–1948. Series B2000. Microfilm, 61 reels. New York State, Division of Military and Naval Affairs. New York State Archives, Albany, NY.

New York State National Guard, National Guard Enlistment Cards, 1923–1940. New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, Saratoga Springs, NY.

Abstracts of National Guard Service in World War I, 1917–1919. New York State Adjutant General’s Office. Series 13721. New York State Archives, Albany, NY.

15th New York National Guard Enlistment Records. New York Heritage Digital Collections.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem Death File.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  National Cemetery Administration, Nationwide Gravesite Locator

U.S. Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File.

Correction: The US Army Transport Service ship Stockholm has been corrected to USAT.

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14 Responses to “And They Thought We Couldn’t Fight:”* Remembering the Nine Soldiers in a World War I Photograph

  1. J. Calvin Jefferson says:

    You did a great detective job to bring the soldiers to life. Keep up the great research.

    Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    Barbara,
    Your work is nothing short of excellent. Thank you so much.
    Gerry Phillips

    Like

  3. Hellen Sims says:

    Thank You for your stellar research. So important to know our history…and call their names, giving them the honor they so richly deserve. Yes We Can.

    Like

    • Barbara Lewis Burger says:

      Thank you, Ms. Sims, for your kind remarks. In writing about these nine soldiers, it was important to me to honor each, to show their humanity and to treat their life stories with respect and dignity.

      Like

  4. Raymond A. Mann says:

    There is a minor historical error in this article. The ship, Stockholm, mentioned in it is incorrectly referred to as “USS Stockholm.” It should be referred to as USAT Stockholm. Only ships commissioned in the United States Navy rate the prefix, “USS.” Stockholm was a troop transport in the Army Transport Service as confirmed by reference to the source materials cited, records of the Quartermaster General of the Army.

    Raymond A. Mann
    Historian (Retired)
    Naval Historical Center (now the Naval History & Heritage Command)
    Washington Navy Yard
    Washington, DC

    Like

  5. Maria says:

    I grew up in Elizabeth, NJ and posted the #WaPo article on our Elizabeth related (closed) FB page. Our local historian added the following information about Pvt Hawkins:

    Hawkins, a corporal, received the Croix de Guerre for leading one hundred of his comrades in an assault that recaptured a French village from the Germans during the closing days of the war. Many German prisoners were taken and the citation was later conferred by General Pershing. Hawkins was born in Elizabeth, a son of Fred Hawkins, and the grandson of C. R. H. Hawkins, a Civil War veteran and former newspaper man. The family lived on High street while residents of Elizabeth.

    Like

    • Barbara Lewis Burger says:

      Thank you Maria, for sharing additional information about Ralph Hawkins. In my research, I came across a death certificate for Frederick Hawkins that named his parents as Charles Richard Hawkins and Mary Helen Williams. I also found a death certificate for Frederick’s, wife Elizabeth Alice Thompson Hawkins. I suspected that they were Ralph’s parents, but I unable to make a firm connection. I’m pleased to know that I was on the right track. Thank you for also pointing out that community historians and historical societies can be excellent sources for information.

      Like

  6. Lee Carol Cook says:

    Hello, Thank you for this interesting article. Henry Davis Primas, Sr. is related to my family. His family, the Primas family, is one of the most prominent African American families in Pittsburgh. My father knew him and Mr. Primas’ great niece is still alive. They both know much of the Primas family history. If you search newspaper articles using the spelling “Primus” and “Primas”, you will find a great many articles about the family. The family appeared regularly in the Pittsburgh Courier. They still appear in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. For instance, here is an article honoring Mr. Primas’ nephew, Dr. Hugh Raymond Primas, Jr. http://triblive.com/obituaries/newsstories/9136249-74/primas-black-dentist#ixzz3mYWfzOZC

    Like

    • Barbara Lewis Burger says:

      I had very much hoped that family members would see the blog. So, I thank you, Ms. Cook for taking the time to share your family connection to Henry Davis Primas, Sr. In researching, Mr. Primas, it was very apparent from news clippings that his family was well respected in the community. I look forward to possibly hearing more about Henry Davis Primas and his family.

      Like

      • Lee Carol Cook says:

        Dear Ms. Burger, In that vein, I would like to forward a copy of a picture that I inherited from my great Aunt of the 15th Infantry Band, NYC. I have always thought that it included her husband, as he was a musician during WWI, although I do not believe with the Hellfighters. It is very possible that it is actually a picture of Mr. Price, although I don’t know if he was also a musician. I shared it with a military historian from New York State who thought that it was actually a picture of a New York State Regiment that existed independently of the 369th. It’s a mystery! Please let me know how I can send it to you via email. All the best, Lee

        Like

  7. Great article! It’s a treat to hear not just the stories the author uncovered, but how the research unfolded. I’m part of a group working on a documentary about the 369th in WWII– a much less known story than during WWI…I would love to speak with the author or anyone else who might have info to share! Thanks in advance!

    Like

    • Netisha says:

      Thanks for reading! Your information has been forwarded to Mrs. Burger. I would also like to point you to the Textual Reference branch (Archives2reference@nara.gov) for any specific textual WWII records questions you may have, and the Still Pictures reference branch (stillpix@nara.gov), if you would like to know more about this or any photographs around the subject.

      Like

  8. Greg Bradsher says:

    Barbara, Our former colleagues Calvin Jefferson and Gerry Phillips said it all. Greg

    Like

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