Thomas C. Butler led a black army unit in the Filipino Insurrection after the Spanish-American War, and his bravery earned official recognition in 1900 after he and 17 other men held off a force of nearly 250 enemy soldiers.
James Reese Europe served as a lieutenant in the segregated 369th Infantry Regiment (the “Harlem Hellfighters”) during World War I, and became the first black officer to lead troops into combat during the war. His military band also helped popularize American jazz music in France.
Microsoft Encarta Africana
The award-winning encyclopedia of black history and culture is now part of the Encarta Reference Library. Learn how people of African descent helped shape the world in this comprehensive collection of articles, original documents, videos, audio clips, interactive timelines, virtual tours, and more. Order the Encarta Reference Library now!
World War II
Vernon J. Baker led his 25-man platoon in a daring assault against dug-in German positions during World War II, destroying six machine gun positions and killing 26 soldiers. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his efforts in 1997.
Tuskegee Airmen were black pilots who served in segregated units of the Army Air Corps in World War II. Nearly 1,000 black pilots earned their wings in the program, and about 450 flew combat missions. Their fighter planes escorted allied bombers to Europe, and in 1,578 missions never lost a single bomber.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., led the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group (both part of the Tuskegee Airmen) during World War II, and became the first black general of the United States Air Force.
Dorie Miller served as a messman on the battleship West Virginia at Pearl Harbor. During the Japanese surprise attack in 1941, he carried the ship’s commander to safety and then shot down at least two enemy aircraft. He received the Navy Cross for his valiant efforts.
Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War
Milton Olive III saved the lives of four other army soldiers during a firefight early in the Vietnam War by hurling his body onto a grenade that enemy soldiers had thrown. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Colin L. Powell (Image credit: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters/Corbis)
Colin Powell, twice wounded in combat during the Vietnam War, served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War, and was appointed secretary of state by President George W. Bush.
Continue exploring Encarta’s special coverage of Black History Month.
Also on Encarta
Watch videos of Colin Powell discussing African American military history in Encarta Africana, part of the Encarta Reference Library.