5 Firsts in African American Military History

African Americans have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the Revolutionary War and they have been breaking barriers in the military ever since. Meet five Black trailblazers from military history.

The Navy’s first African-American nurse, Phyllis Mae Dailey, second from the right, is sworn in to the Navy along with four other nurses. | Photo credit Navy photo

1945 - Phyllis Mae Dailey is the first African American woman sworn into the Navy Nurse Corps.

Dailey, a nurse and Columbia University student, was one of only four African American women to serve in the Navy during World War II.

1968 – James Anderson Jr. is the first African American Marine awarded the Medal of Honor.

Anderson was killed in February 1967 when he grabbed a live enemy grenade during an intense firefight in dense jungle and used his body to absorb the blast. His extraordinary valor saved his comrades from serious injury and possible death.

Photo credit Air Force photo

Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. with his F-4C Phantom during the Vietnam War. He later became a four-star general in the Air Force.

1975 – Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. becomes the first African American four-star general.

James, a Tuskegee University graduate who trained pilots of the all-Black 99th Pursuit Squadron during World War II, served in Korea and Vietnam before retiring from the Air Force in 1978.

Photo credit White House photo

President George H. W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush present Mary Bowens, second from left, and Georgina Palmer, far left, with a posthumous Medal of Honor awarded to their brother, Army Cpl. Freddie Stowers.

1991 – World War I hero Freddie Stowers posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Stowers, who died fighting in France in 1918, is the first and only Black service member to receive the nation’s highest award for valor for actions during The Great War. Stowers led an assault on German trenches, continuing to lead and fight, even after being wounded twice. Seventy-three years later, his sisters Georgina and Mary received the award on his behalf at a White House ceremony.

Lt. j.g. Jeanine McIntosh, a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft pilot stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, Oahu, Hawaii, proudly sits at the controls. | Photo credit Coast Guard photo

2005 – Jeanine McIntosh becomes the first African American female aviator in the Coast Guard.

McIntosh, originally from Jamaica, joined the Coast Guard in 2003 after graduating college at Florida International University. She earned her wings at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas and piloted the HC-130 Hercules. McIntosh also flew rescue missions in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

-This story originally appeared on USO.org in 2017. It has been updated in 2021.

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