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Sun, 04.28.1901

Needham Roberts, Soldier born

Needham Roberts

*Needham Roberts was born on this date in 1901. He was a decorated Black World War I United States Army Soldier.

From Trenton, NJ., Needham Roberts was the son of a pastor.  In 1917, he left his job as a drugstore clerk to enlist in the Army and serve his county. He was 15 or 16 years old at the time. He lied to the recruiter and told him he was 19 so he could join. He was assigned to the New York Fifteenth Infantry, which later became the 369th Infantry (Harlem Hellfighters). He was sent to France with his regiment, where they were under the French Army's control.

The soldiers were issued French equipment and uniforms and given basic training in the French language and military tactics. He and a fellow member of the regiment, Henry Johnson, were on watch in the Argonne Forest when a German raiding party of about 20 soldiers attacked them.

Though both were wounded, they continued to fight the Germans and defend the French line. Roberts' wounds disabled him enough to allow the Germans to attempt to drag him away as a prisoner. Henry Johnson, who attacked the Germans with a bolo knife, rescued Roberts, repelled the attack, and saved him from this fate.

For these events, both Needham Roberts and Henry Johnson were awarded the French Croix de Guerre medal; the first American's to receive that honor.  However, neither received any recognition from the United States upon their return. It was not until many years after his death that Needham Roberts was awarded the Purple Heart (in 1996).

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