HATTIESBURG, Mississippi–Our USO Route 75 team stopped by the African American Military History Museum during Black History Month - once the site of a USO center for Black service members during World War II in the segregated South - for a history lesson.
The former Hattiesburg USO’s walls are lined with tributes to barrier breakers, Buffalo Soldiers and bold men and women who fought for their country. Here are five stories you may not know that we found at the museum.
#1. Born into slavery in the South, Henry O. Flipper became the first African American to graduate the United States Military Academy in 1877. A successful engineer who also led raids against Apaches in the Southwest, his Army career was cut short due to an 1881 court-martial conviction for misconduct over financial dealings. However, Flipper was slowly vindicated over the course of the next century, culminating in a full presidential pardon in 1999. West Point has held the Flipper Dinner since 1977 to honor his achievement and to present the Henry O. Flipper Award to a graduating cadet “who demonstrates the highest qualities of leadership, self-discipline and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties.”
#2. How would you like to sign up to parachute over the Pacific Northwest into dense forests looking for Japanese-deployed balloon bombs? The Triple Nickels - men assigned to the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion - did just that, making history as the first all-Black platoon, company and then battalion of its kind. Their nickname - Smokejumpers - lives on today as slang for firefighters who parachute in to fight a blaze.
#3. Twenty-five Black men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the Civil War. That list includes Robert Blake, an escaped slave.
#4. Hazel Johnson-Brown made history in 1979 when she was promoted to Army brigadier general and put in charge of the Army Nurse Corps. She was the first African American woman to become an Army general.
#5. Just 18 at the time of his death, Pfc. Milton Olive was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Vietnam. The private first class jumped on a grenade, saving the lives of four fellow soldiers.
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.