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Mayor’s Veterans Day remarks

Posted on November 11, 2023

Veterans Day - honoring all who served

Dear friends, neighbors, honored guests, and most importantly, cherished veterans:

Welcome all as the passage of time reunites us in this sacred space to recognize and remember the brave American servicemen and women who answered our nation’s call in times of peace and war both at home and in the greater world we share with all mankind. A single day does not suffice to repay the debt of gratitude we owe to so many, but today we join our fellow communities throughout the land in quiet reflection of extraordinary deeds done by ordinary people.

Every citizen-soldier has a unique story to tell. Today I will focus not on one single individual, as I have done on past occasions, but on the approximately 200,000 United States Colored Troops who came into existence during the American Civil War. Between 1861 and 1863 President Abraham Lincoln’s Union armies employed thousands of men of color in purely support duties such as drivers, cooks, and laborers. These brave men did not qualify as soldiers, even though they shared the same horrible and dangerous conditions as their combat counterparts.

That all changed in 1863 following the Emancipation Proclamation. Thousands of blacks enlisted, and while limited at first to secondary assignments like guarding forts and wagon trains, these regiments gradually, out of military necessity, became front-line troops. Led by exclusively white officers, these brave men of color proved their worth in over 150 battle actions, most notably the heroic but unsuccessful attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina on July 18, 1864 as depicted in the classic Hollywood film “Glory.”

Between 1863 and 1865 the USCT faced the deprivations of the typical civil war encampment, the hardships of forced marches, the constant threat of disease, and the gut-wrenching terror of the battlefield. It is worth noting that these men endured all this despite being paid less than white soldiers wearing the same blue uniforms. You see, standard army pay for an infantryman was $13 a month, yet USCT privates received only $10, of which $3 was withheld to pay for their military clothing. The same danger for half the pay did not deter these brave men from doing their duty. Then, as a final insult, when back pay was finally authorized in early 1865, it was only given to free men of color, not to any soldier who had once been a slave.

At war’s end, the USCT had played an instrumental role in bringing victory to the North and freedom to over 4,000,000 enslaved men, women and children while suffering a staggering mortality rate of over twenty percent, a figure significantly higher than any white regiments north or south. USCT veterans went on to serve honorably in the American West, in the Philippines, and on the killing fields of Europe. It was not until 1948 that the American Armed Forces were officially integrated by President Harry S. Truman. Today’s Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard feature a large percentage of men and women of color, building upon the legacy of the original USCT volunteers who battled oppression and hatred with courage and determination at a pivotal time in our nation’s history.

The next time you pass by New Cemetery on South Bridge St., I invite you to stop and pay your respects to the 18 United States Colored Troopers who rest here in Somerville soil. In a world where we idolize celebrities and athletes, please offer a silent tribute to the following real American heroes. Unless otherwise noted, all soldiers bore the rank of private.

2nd USCT Regiment

Musician John Sloan

8th USCT

Corp. Norman Rodgers

Corp. James Timbrook

11th USCT

Ist Lt. Royal Paine

22nd USCT

John Kline (Somerville native)

John Pierson

25th USCT

Sgt. George Nolan

29th USCT

William Beverly

Albert Orton

41st USCT

Emanuel Field

Theodore Jewell

Andrew Kline

Nathan Layton

Abram VanDoren

45th USCT

George Washington

127th USCT

Henry Boyer

Theodore Layton

Theodore Rodgers

May their struggles be appreciated, may their bravery be recognized, and may their memories be preserved.

Thank you,

Mayor Dennis Sullivan
Somerville, New Jersey

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