By Mr. Wallace McBride (Fort Jackson)August 2, 2018
More than a century ago, Perry Loyd found his life and country at a crossroads. Loyd was training to become a Soldier in what was then known as Camp Jackson, working toward becoming a Soldier for a country that roundly despised him. When the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, it was decided that there was no more room for Loyd and other African Americans in the armed forces, claiming quotas had been met.
"At this time in history, existing all-black Army regiments were not allowed to fight in combat roles overseas," said Loyd's grandson, Perry James, a guest speaker at a breakfast for military retirees July 26 at the Fort Jackson's NCO Club. "They were instead diffused in territories throughout the United States."
World War I proved to be a turning point for freedom, citizenship and self-determination for African Americans, James said. "They envisioned themselves as torchbearers for democracy," Perry said, and the denial of combat roles prompted a huge backlash.
The U.S. Department of War relented to a certain degree, creating two combat divisions of African American Soldiers in 1917: 92nd and 93rd Divisions. Perry Loyd served in the 371st Infantry Colored Regiment within the 93rd Division at what was then known as Camp Jackson.
"The first black troops sent overseas belonged to service units," James said. "Because the work these units did was absolutely critical to the war effort, commanders promised special privileges to them if they yielded high results. As the war continued and Soldiers took to the battlefields, black Soldiers became responsible for digging trenches, removing unexploded shells from fields, clearing disabled equipment and barbed wire, and burying Soldiers killed in action."
Despite this, these Soldiers received the worst treatment of all black troops in World War I and suffered casualties at a rate of 45 percent.
"My grandfather was wounded at the battle of the Argonne Forest, which was a major part of the offensive," James said. The battle was part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and stretched along the entire Western Front. It was fought from Sept. 26, until the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, during which Loyd was wounded. With the end of the war, Loyd was promoted to sergeant, discharged and returned to his life as a sharecropper in Sumter County, South Carolina.
Perry Loyd died in 1946 at the age of 61, a decade before the birth of his grandson, who was named for him.
James said interest in his grandfather was rekindled after visiting his grave, and learning that a Purple Heart he had earned had never been delivered. He set about correcting that problem, but history had erased many of the records of his grandfather's life. His military records were destroyed by a fire in St. Louis, while many of his personal effects were lost in a house fire years later.
"From a forensic standpoint, it was very difficult to get verifiable information," James said. "Through networking with people, I was able to talk to a gentleman at the National Archives, who was able to dig through the archives and find evidence of his service and his injury."
Loyd's Purple Heart was on display during last week's breakfast.
"I had to stick with it. I just couldn't give up," James said.