Black soldiers honored

June 02, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

They fought for freedom in the trenches of World War I even though their own country refused to let them fight alongside its white soldiers.

The contributions of thousands of black Americans who battled heroically for the United States during World War I were overlooked then and in many of this week's commemorations of American veterans.

But about 60 people met at the Officers' Club at Fort Meade last night to honor the black soldiers and to see Baltimore artist Larry Denson unveil a painting depicting members of the black 92nd Infantry Division in battle in World War I France.

Mr. Denson donated his painting to the Fort Meade Museum.

Parts of the 92nd Division, which suffered 1,700 casualties in the war, trained at Fort Meade.

"Duty, Honor, Country," an oil painting, shows soldiers of an unidentified unit of the 92nd Infantry, guns blazing, scrambling among the trenches and barbed wire during the Meuse-Argonne campaign.

Mr. Denson, who says his paintings and prints are exhibited in 140 galleries nationwide, had previously painted murals and portraits, including a series of portraits of black American musicians.

He became interested in black military history while researching a novel he was writing about the adventures of a black man in the post-Civil War American West.

Poring over material in libraries, Mr. Denson kept learning things about blacks in the U.S. military, such as their role in campaigns against the Indians and their service, by the thousands, in the Civil War.

This research spawned a series of military paintings, of which "Duty, Honor, Country" is the seventh.

Mr. Denson resolved to use his art to educate people about the role of blacks in American military history. He hopes his work will encourage young blacks to read about the achievements of black Americans.

"This is the baton that I can pass on to the next generation. These are things that they don't know about," he said.

Even though blacks in World War I faced prejudice and Jim Crow laws, Mr. Denson said, "they still served with duty and honor to this country."

He said he has never served in the military and that his painting is a way of paying his debt of gratitude to veterans.

On hand last night to accept the painting were Cunningham Bryant and Frederic Davison, both retired major generals who served with the 92nd Division in World War II.

General Davison said history, as taught to many, has omitted many achievements of black Americans.

"I was a grown man before I knew there was a black cowboy," he said.

"This is an absolutely superb testament to a fine fighting unit," said Col. Robert G. Morris III, commander of the Fort Meade garrison.

Colonel Morris said honoring the 92nd Division had personal meaning for him because his grandfather, Robert G. Morris Sr., was chaplain to the division's depot brigade.

General Bryant, who fought with the 92nd Division in Italy during World War II, acknowledged the World War I veterans as pioneers.

"We knew we were walking in the paths that they had made," he said.

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