SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The New York State Military Museum revealed the contents of a nearly century old time capsule Thursday. The box, which was located at the Harlem Armory, includes dozens of artifacts related to the Harlem Hellfighters and the community in the 1910’s and 1920’s.
Historians weren’t even aware the time capsule existed before it was discovered in February, “We’re literally unfolding this stuff and the story was unfolding, it was just incredible to find,” said Courtney Burns, Director of the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center.
The capsule was found by contractors working to replace a plaque at the Harlem Armory earlier this year. Construction on the site began in the 1920’s. It was built for the 369th Regiment, more commonly known as the Harlem Hellfighters.
After it was discovered, the capsule was sent to the Military Museum in Saratoga Springs. Inside, museum personnel found photographs, documents and newspaper articles from during and after World War I.
The artifacts showing a glimpse of pride about the regiment, as well as the community as a whole, “To show that it was not just the regiment, it’s not just Harlem, it’s all of New York City, it’s all of New York State, and really, it’s all of America that was behind them,” said Colonel Richard Goldenberg from the New York Army National Guard.
The Hellfighters, which originally formed as the 15th Regiment of the New York National Guard and became the 369th during the war, was comprised of African American soldiers at a time where the US military was not integrated.
While they were some of the earliest Americans on the front lines of Europe after the US declared war on Germany, the regiment was assigned to the French.
“They had one of the most distinguished combat records of any unit throughout the war,” Burns explained, noting that they spent 191 days in combat.
And the pride for the regiment stretched beyond Harlem, north to the Capital Region, “Because it was our own Henry Johnson who took a train and went to New York City to join the 369th,” Greenberg said.
The time capsule highlighting some of Johnson’s achievements during World War I, including his heroic actions that earned him recognition from the French. In 1918, a German raiding party attacked Johnson and Needham Roberts. Despite being outnumbered, Johnson was able to fend off the German attack and rescue Roberts from being taken prisoner.
“His actions were celebrated in the newspapers at home. He became not just an African American hero, but an American hero,” Burns said.
Those efforts earned him the distinguished Croix de Guerre from France. Almost a century later, he received several posthumous honors from the US, including receiving the Medal of Honor from President Obama in 2015.
The New York State Military Museum is working to create a virtual exhibit of the time capsule. Some of the artifacts will likely head back to the Harlem Armory, where they hope to inspire soldiers serving in the present day 369th Sustainment Brigade.