Many attend wreath laying at
gravesite of former ‘Harlem Hellfighter’
On Tuesday, October 12, over two hundred people, comprised of many former veterans, politicians, community leaders and residents flocked to St. Paul’s Church, a Mount Vernon National Historic Site, to attend an unprecedented wreath laying memorial service at the gravesite of Cpl. Morris D. Link, who served in World War I with the legendary 369th Infantry, Harlem Hellfighters, which was based in Harlem and composed of Black Soldiers.
Participating in the wreath laying was Mayor Shawyn Patterson Howard and Congressman Thomas Suozzi, which also included an internment prayer by Dr. Stephen Pogue of Greater Centennial A.M.E Zion Church.
The event is being described by many who attended as “unprecedented,” since it was superbly created and organized by longtime Mount Vernon resident and entrepreneur, Terrence Horton, who acted as the Masters of Ceremonies. Nothing of this magnitude has transpired for some hundred years.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, Congressman Thomas Suozzi, Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow and Mayor Shawyn Patterson Howard led the procession of guests up to the interment site at Saint Paul’s National Cemetery. They were preceded by Col. Ricardo Singleton (retired), U.S.N. Submariner William Jones (retired), Active Duty N.Y. Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Danon E. Ray, active duty PFC Henry Rockine and retired Marine Rev. Alfred W. Gordon.
During the solemn wreath laying ceremony, the Mount Vernon Police Department’s Honor Guard performed the Fire Team and Taps. Notably, it was the first time ever in which two Taps buglers - Russ Emersole of the 89th N.Y. Guard Trumpeters, and Chief Roy Hastings of MVPD, provided the solemn melody from opposite sides of the interment site.
The Warriors Way ceremony truly commemorated the service and sacrifice of military personnel buried in Mt. Vernon.
After the ceremony at the internment site, the participants proceeded to Warriors Way (Brush Park). Once there, the Mayor greeted the community and special guests. Viviane DeCohen, Mt. Vernon Veterans Director, commenced the ceremony with short, sweet and to the point comments.
The list of speakers was a long and impressive one, and attracted the full attention of all those in attendance.
Special speaker and Mount Vernon Historian, Dr. Larry Spruill, astonished the audience as he provided never before known facts and stories as he demonstrated his vast experience and professional historical prowess.
Special guest speaker and keynote speaker, Dr. Krewasky A. Salter, spent 25 years on active duty in the U.S. Army, retiring as a full-bird Colonel. He is a Military History, African-American History and museum professional. He is the curator of permanent exhibitions at the Smithsonian, National Museum of African- American History Culture at the Pentagon. He s currently the Executive Director of the Museum at Cantigny Park in Chicagoland, which included the First Museum and the developing Robert R. McCormick Museum. It must be noted that Dr. Salter flew in just to attend the event and immediately returned to Illinois afterward. Congressman Jamaal Bowman was in intense negotiations at the Capitol In Washington, D.C., fighting diligently for Mt. Vernon and the 16th Congressional District. Deputy District Director Quantel Bazemore presented the 369th Citation for Representative Jamaal Bowman, who expressed his well wishes to Mt. Vernon.
Another keynote speaker was Colonel Francis Kairson, whose Army career included service with the last active regiment of the 9th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) and deployment to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Dessert Shield/Storm as the Battalion Commander of the famous 369th Transportation Battalion (Harlem Hellfighters). The Colonel is currently serving as the Service Disabled Veterans Owned Business Consultant for Recruiting and Liaison for the MTA, and is past president of the Statue of Liberty Chapter of AUSA and a member of the founding chapter of The 100 Black Men.
Guest speaker, Lt. Col. Ricardo G. Singleton, who has had many tours of active duty, including Operation Dessert Storm, Operation Joint Endeavor Bosnia, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. possesses 2 Bronze Medals, Joint Service Commendation Medal, two Army Achievement Medals, 8 Army Reserve Component Achievement Medals - as well as Airborne Wings and Air Assault Wings.
Guest speaker Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Hamilton, appeared to be profoundly impacted as he made reference about how important the subject matter was; the significance of Warrior’s Way; and the induction of Cpl. Morris D. Link in the 369th and his selfless service. “This should be a curriculum in Mount Vernon’s schools,” said Dr. Hamilton. He was almost poetic as he shared in everybody’s mutual experience.
There was a surprise guest visitor. Mr. Horton called on Michael G. Haskins of WBAI Radio, and the host of “Living For The City,” who spoke about the correlation between the 369th historical accomplishments and the Sankofa Bird, always looking back in time.
New York State Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow profoundly represented the Great City of Mount Vernon as he spoke about his extensive knowledge of Cpl. Morris D. Link and the 369th, and shared experience of his uncle's service as well.
Also, in attendance was Hope Hollinsworh Coaxum, who represented all of our Gold Star Mothers, as head of the Yonkers Chapter.
Brenda Ephaiim, President of the 369th Association Inc., ensured key veterans participated in the memorial, and posted the Company Colors.
Another important guest was Amy Driscoll, Executive Director of North Shore Historical Museum. Amy’s contributions were invaluable, as well as introducing Mr. Horton to Cheryl Miller, granddaughter of 1st Sgt. Elbert Barringtine, who was a twice Purple Heart recipient with the 369th. Ms. Miller was profoundly grateful, as Mayor Shawn Patterson Howard presented her with a proclamation recognizing her grandfather’s extraordinary service and sacrifice, as her son and granddaughter also received the recognition from the mayor.
Also present was Kristen Rouse, Deputy Director for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, New York State Division of Veterans Service. She surprised the audience packed park, as she delivered a heartfelt emotionally stirring letter from Governor Kathy Hochul, who had transmitted his impactful communication during the 369th Centennial memorial. As Deputy Rouse read the letter directly from her laptop, she captured the attention of all who were in attendance. In that moment in time, the Great City of Mount Vernon achieved extraordinary representation and acknowledgement, as Gov. Hochul, in real time, appeared to be present in that moment!
Dr. Deacon Richard Ellison performed the closing benediction, inspiring all who attended as he represented Saints Peter, and Paul, and Ursula Catholic Church of Mount Vernon.
Mr. Horton has since been reached out by a family member who like so many others would like their family members recognized. Mr. James Carl Nelms Sr., born in Athens, Georgia, and lived in Harlem, NY. was also a 369th Harlem Hellfighter and died in 1923; Mrs. Katherine Nelms Nickson is 101 years young, still living in Harlem, is hoping she can be recognized as a Gold Star Mother. It has become apparent, Mr. Horton’s charge is an important one, in these “Moments In Time!!”
For those readers not familiar with Cpl. Link, please note that Cpl. Link was a Mt. Vernon resident who was born in North Carolina in 1883 and moved to Mt. Vernon in the early part of the 20th century. In 1910, along with his wife Lizzie, also a North Carolina native, the future Hellfighter was living on South Seventh Avenue, employed as a teamster, or driver of teams of horses transporting goods. The couple had no children.
In 1917, the unit was federalized and deployed to France and designated the 369th Infantry Regiment of the National Army, but the Soldiers were initially employed in unloading ships because the Army was reluctant to let Black soldiers’ fight. The French Army, though, had no such qualms, and in April 1918 the regiment was assigned to the French 16th Division.
While fighting with the French the unit earned 171 Legion of Honor Awards and Private Henry Johnson became the first American soldier awarded the French Croix de Guerre for driving away a German patrol in hand-to-hand combat.
Early on the morning of July 15, 1918, the 369th came under heavy artillery bombardment, part of the Second Battle of the Marne, as the French struggled to hold off a German offensive. The shells fell with particular ferocity on the front-line trenches, which were held by Link and soldiers of the regiment’s Company K. Corporal Link was among four soldiers killed in action. Link was also one of 85 Mt. Vernon soldiers killed during World War I. The city planted trees in honor of each of the fallen, and the sapling commemorating Link was based on Wallace Avenue, at the intersection with Westchester Avenue.
Cpl. Link was awarded the French War Cross (Croix De Guerre) – in 1918, and on Aug 25, 2021, President Biden awarded Cpl. Link, and the 369th HHF, with the Congressional Medal of Honor for the supreme sacrifices made during World War I.
* The original internment in 1921 was performed by Greater Centennial Church, then Pastored by Rev. Samuel S. Boyd (1913-1924). This year, Rev. Dr. Stephen Pogue, of the Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church once again presided over this historic 100th year centennial memorial, 100 years to that very day.
* In 2019 , Terrence Horton provided then Congressman Eliot Engel with pertinent information and was instrumental in working with Congressman Engel in getting Cpl. Link and the 369th Harlem Hellfighters Service and Sacrifice recorded into the 116th Congressional Record.
* Subsequently, in 2019, U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel entered Cpl. Link and the 369th service and sacrifice , into the 116th Congressional Record.
* In 2019, N.Y.S. Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow brought forth a New York State citation in recognition of Cpl. Link’s service and ultimate sacrifice.
Participating in the wreath laying was Mayor Shawyn Patterson Howard and Congressman Thomas Suozzi, which also included an internment prayer by Dr. Stephen Pogue of Greater Centennial
A.M.E Zion Church.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, Congressman Thomas Suozzi, and Mayor Shawyn Patterson Howard led the procession of guests up to the interment site at Saint Paul’s National Cemetery. They were preceded by Col. Ricardo Singleton (retired), U.S.N. Submariner William Jones (retired), Active Duty N.Y. Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Danon E. Ray, and active duty PFC Henry Rockine.
During the solemn wreath laying ceremony, the Mount Vernon Police Department’s Honor Guard performed the Fire Team and Taps.
New York State Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, Mayor Shawyn Patterson Howard and Congressman Thomas Suozzi
The keynote speaker and guest was Colonel Francis Kairson
Mayor Shawyn Patterson and Hope Hollinsworh-Coaxum
Terrence Horton, Dr. Deacon Ellison, Mayor Shawyn Patterson Howard, former NYS Rep Ruth Hassel-Thompson, SSgt. Danon Rey, PFC Henry Rockine, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, Congressman Thomas Suozzi and Col. Ricardo Singleton
Dr. Deacon Ellison provided the closing benediction at the end of the ceremony