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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Artifact

Monday, August 14, 2017

WWWI BadgeSometime between 1926 and 1929, a soldier at Camp Lincoln lost the bronze disc from the collar of his service coat that identified him as part of the Eighth Illinois National Guard. At the time the disc fell to the ground, it’s likely that the soldier was practicing his marksmanship, says Illinois State Military Museum curator Bill Lear. The area of the camp where the disc was unearthed during construction of a new bridge is known to have been the location of the rifle range and training ground, and expended rifle shells were found nearby. Yet, while the story of this individual soldier’s life is lost—as are the stories of hundreds of millions of soldiers throughout history—the story of his regiment is not. The Eighth Illinois was also, for a time, the 370th Infantry, a unit of African-American officers and enlisted men who fought on the battlefields of the Western Front in World War I.

 

About 10,000 African-American National Guardsmen served in World War I. The 370th arrived in France in April 1918, and was reassigned to the French army and equipped with French weapons, uniforms, and rations. The soldiers of the 370th fought for 10 months, earning 71 individual Croix de Guerre medals, 21 Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, and numerous other military honors. As members of a segregated unit not allowed to fight alongside their white compatriots, “these men endured hardships that other soldiers wouldn’t have,” says Lear. “They stuck it out and served their country for many reasons. I would like to think that a sense of duty, honor, loyalty, and love of country had something to do with it.”

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