21 Jun Life of Horace Pippin- A Harlem Hellfighter
Horace Pippin- a renowned African-American artist of the 20th century, was also a Veteran who served as a Harlem Hellfighter in WWI.
The Harlem Hellfighters was an African-American unit known for their courage, sacrifice, and dedication to their country. They spend more time in combat than any other unit in the allied forces. However, despite their courage, they still faced racism after the war.
Horace Pippin- a Harlem Hellfighter, was born in Pennsylvania and raised in New York. To support his family, he left school in the 7th grade and started working as a laborer in the streets of New York City.
In 1917, at the age of 30, Horace volunteered as a National Guard and later became a part of the 369th regiment, also called the Harlem Hellfighters.
Pippin poured his war memories into a journal and composition books, giving a rare first-person account of what it’s like in the no man’s land.
In December 1917, when the Harlem Hellfighters were sent to France, the all-white leadership questioned whether black people should even be a part of the military. So, initially, the Hellfighters toiled as laborers, constructed railyard roads and unloaded ships.
The 369th finally saw took part in the combat against the German forces. They served 191 days in combat, which is the longest time spent by any unit.
They never lost grounds to the German and were the first unit to reach River Rhine.
The 369th witnessed their first action in France in 1918. In his journal, Pippin records that life in trenches was cold, lonely and terror-filled. Rats and lice were their companions and the fear of death by German forces kept them up at night.
He also writes about his experience when the Germans attacked their trench with poisonous gas. They were forced to crawl on their bellies and get out of there.
He vividly describes the hellish patterns followed on the battlefield. For days, they were left with no food or water, being targeted by German snipers and machine guns. Their men laid all around, wounded or dead. While some of the wounded were rescued, most were left behind to die.
His journal also records a rare account of terror when he saw a young comrade taken over by sheer terror. At that time, the hellfighters volunteered to join a raid. He writes that he asked the young man to take a sick exemption if he wants. The boy, with fear in his eyes, said, ” I am going through with it. But I am not coming back.” After the raid, when the group returned with two german prisoners, the boy wasn’t with them.
Pippin’s last mission was the worst of all. He was seriously wounded and had to lay still for hours because of the German Snipper.
After the mission, he returned to the US, emotionally and physically shattered.
After ten years, he started selling paintings and portraits, offering a raw look at the war. His work finally gained attention and collectors began auctioning for his paintings.
He received a Purple Heart in 1945, a year before his death.