Freddie Stowers was an African American corporal in the US Army who ultimately became renowned and celebrated for his heroism and bravery during World War I. Decades after his fearless and leadership prowess during the battle in France were overlooked, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration. Freddie’s chronicle further promoted the conversation against racism and the initial treatment of Black soldiers in the American Army.
Freddie Stowers was born on January 12, 1986, in the small and quiet town of Sandy Springs, South Carolina. His parents were Wylie and Annie Stowers. Freddie was the fourth of ten children and grew up on his family’s farm. He was also the grandson of enslaved grandparents. Given that Stowers grew up in the southern part of the U.S., it is evident that the war hero’s childhood was characterized by racial practices such as segregation. Before his involvement with the army, Freddie worked as a farmhand. He also married a young woman named Pearl who conceived a child named Minnie.
The United States officially entered World War I in April 1917. A boyish 21-year-old Stowers was drafted into the U.S. Army and trained at Camp Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, two hours away from his hometown. He served with the 371st Infantry Regiment of the 93rd Division as a combat soldier, one of only two African American divisions. Due to his exceptional dedication, Freddie Stowers was promoted to Private First Class within two months. As an African American infantryman in World War I, Stowers was an extreme minority. To justify that statement, Stowers was statistically among the 10% of African American servicemen from World War I who served in combat. Based on racial prejudices, about 90% of African American males were given secondary tasks like loading and unloading cargo, never to be taken soberly.
In March 1918, General John Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, a unit formulated to support Allies in Europe, ordered the 371st and other Black Regiments to support the French military. Stowers was deployed overseas the following month and aligned with the 157th French Army, Red Hand Division, under General Mariano Goybet. This decision significantly evicted the French-trained and French-weapon-supplied Black American soldiers from the U.S. Army. As a result, it cemented the segregation policies of the U.S. Armed Forces at the time. Well, this decision came as a blessing in disguise as the Black soldiers enjoyed more civil rights and freedom in France due to the country’s absence of discriminatory laws than they did in America. Stowers settled with the French, building on his military knowledge and benefitting from the expertise of his superiors. He was promoted to Corporal on May 1918 and served as Squad Leader of Company C, less than a year after his conscription.
A DISPLAY OF HEROISM
On September 28, 1918, Freddie Stowers valiantly led his squad to capture Côte 188, a hill barricaded by German forces in the Ardennes region of France. The Germans vehemently resisted, firing machine guns and rifles, and launching off mortars. Despite the threat, Stowers and his men fearlessly advanced. Not long into the attack, the Germans pretentiously ceased fire and surrendered. But, as they moved closer, the Germans resumed firing with machine guns, killing or wounding half of Stowers’ company instantly, including the Lieutenant and higher-ranked officers.
With the authority decimated, Corporal Stowers was suddenly in charge of the Platoon. While he was ambushed with heavy firing, he was able to manoeuvre, signalling his men to target a machine gun nest in the first German trench line. After that gun was destroyed, he led the assault to the second trench. He was critically injured by machine gun fire in the process. Yet, Freddie Stowers pressed on his troops to further advance. Encouraged by his perseverance, they successfully captured the hill. Sadly, Stowers died from his wounds that day at the age of 22 years old. He was buried alongside 133 of his fellow soldiers at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France.
France awarded the entire 371 Regiment the Croix de Guerre for valour and Stowers was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest U.S. military decoration, by his commanding officer. This recommendation was raised to the Medal of Honor in December 1918.
An official investigation into the lack of Black Medal of Honor recipients in the 1980s revealed his original said-to-be-misplaced application in 1918. Seventy-three years later, on April 24, 1991, Georgiana Palmer and Mary Bowens, Stowers’ surviving sisters, accepted the Medal of Honor on his behalf from President George W. H. Bush at a White House ceremony. Stowers’ great-grandnephews, Senior Sergeant Douglas Warren and Technical Sergeant Odis Stowers of the U.S. Air Force, also attended.