The official logo of the 372nd Colored Infrantry Regiment, Company E.

The official logo of the 372nd Colored Infrantry Regiment, Company E.

Location: Springfield, Ohio
Nickname:
“The Bloody Hand”
Colors:
Army Olive, Army Brown, Varsity Red, College Blue

Most of the nearly 400,000 African American soldiers who served in the U.S. Army during World War I worked in segregated labor battalions.

But 20 percent fought on the front lines in two specially created all-black combat units, the 92nd and 93rd Divisions, under the command of white officers. Black soldiers were among the first to enlist and were the first to engage in actual combat.

The Company E basketball team, part of the famous 372nd Colored Infantry Regiment that fought during World War I while assigned to the French 157th "Red Hand" Division, since white United States Army officers and soldiers refused to fight side by side with African Americans. The regiment adopted the "Bloody Hand" nickname for their fierceness and bravery in battle, as their advance during the Meuse-Argonne offensive was the breakthrough that won World War I. The entire unit was awarded the Croix de Guerre, France's highest military honor .

A collage of images and items relating to the basketball team of Company E, 372nd Colored Infantry Regiment.

The 93rd Division comprised four infantry regiments, including the 372nd Colored Infantry Regiment, staffed by 900 men from the 9th Separate Colored Infantry Battalion of the Ohio National Guard.

The 372nd Infantry’s Company E was made up of 9th Battalion units from Springfield, Ohio.

In 1918, United States military commanders refused to let black and white Americans fight side by side, but French leaders had no such objection.

So when the 372nd Infantry Regiment arrived in France they were immediately assigned to the 157th Infantry of the French Army—the renowned Red Hand Division—to help fight in the famous Meuse-Argonne offensive.

In two weeks of combat, the 372nd suffered 616 casualties and 107 deaths, but their advance was decisive in ending the war and the entire unit received the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military honor.

bloody-hand-insignia

Looking closely at the team photograph reveals the Bloody Hand insignia on their uniform shorts, in honor of the players’ World War I heroics.

The French commanding general paid tribute, stating, “The ‘Red Hand’ sign of the Division, thanks to you, became a bloody hand. . . . You have well avenged our glorious dead.”

The U.S. command never made any such acknowledgment.

Indeed, some returning African American soldiers, seen as overeager believers in the ideals of the democracy for which they had just fought, were lynched while in uniform.

After the war, some Company E veterans formed a basketball team, based in Springfield, Ohio.

Led by Freeman Lee, the Company E squad played other black teams in the region, including the Center Street Colored YMCA of Springfield and the Pioneers, Keystones, and Swastikas of nearby Cleveland.

The logo of the 372nd Colored Infantry Regiment’s Company E basketball team, nicknamed the “Bloody Hand” for their battlefield heroics, incorporates the regiment’s official military uniform patch, a red hand inside an oval.

(Company E Photo: Courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society)