Mormon Battalion Site Honors African American Veterans

Contributed By David Barnes, Church News contributor

  • 29 June 2015

Charlie Lewis, left, is awarded a medal by patriarch Averill Pugmire at the Mormon Battalion Flag Day ceremony on June 12 honoring the contributions of African American soldiers.  Photo by William Sinclair.

Article Highlights

  • Four African American veterans from San Diego County were honored.
  • Reenactors highlighted stories of African Americans who fought valiantly for the country.
  • It is up to Americans to live up to their examples and maintain the freedom for which they fought.

“The African American veterans we honor today chose to leave the safe confines of a comfortable life to protect the rest of us ... for which we are deeply grateful.” —Elder David Barnes, director of the Mormon Battalion Historic Site

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

A Flag Day celebration at the Mormon Battalion Historic Site honored African American veterans of the U.S. military on June 12.

Elder David Barnes, director of the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, conducted the ceremonies. The keynote speaker was Agin Shaheed, program manager of the San Diego Unified School District’s Race Relations and Advocacy Department. Mr. Shaheed, noting that the Church is in the forefront of family history, said anyone can look at their genealogy “to remember the distinguished members of our family who have served in the military or the government or as common courageous men and women in everyday life.”

During the recognition ceremony, four African American veterans from San Diego County were honored: 1st Sergeant Charlie Lewis; Chuck Ambers, U.S. Army; Odell “Ranger” Wilson, U.S. Army; and Charles Adams, U.S. Navy Corpsman.

Representing the Mormon Battalion soldiers, Averill Pugmire, patriarch of the San Diego North Stake, presented medals of appreciation to the honored veterans.

Sister Cherie W. Barnes pinned on each honoree a Mormon Battalion, U.S. Army of the West, lapel pin honoring them for their faith, service, and sacrifice.

African Americans have served in every American war. The stories of some of these heroes were highlighted by three reentactors. Mikel Askia Toure taught the audience about black patriots who were in the boat with General George Washington; Chuck Ambers portrayed Sergeant William H. Carney of the Union Army; and Hiram Haynes-Pitt portrayed Tuskegee Airman General Benjamin O. Davis.

The Flag Day program also featured patriotic music by various performers, including a children’s choir.

In his closing remarks, Elder Barnes stated, “The African American veterans we honor today chose to leave the safe confines of a comfortable life to protect the rest of us … for which we are deeply grateful. … It is now up to the rest of us to follow their fine patriotic examples and to do our part to maintain the freedoms we so abundantly enjoy in this great land.”

A children’s choir composed of descendants of Melissa Coray, a woman who accompanied the Mormon Battalion from 1846 to 1847, performed at the Flag Day ceremony on June 12. Photo by Becky Davies.

Reenactors of African Americans who served in various wars are, from left, Hiram Haynes-Pitt, World War II; Mikel Askia Toure, Revolutionary War; and Chuck Ambers, Civil War. Photo by Becky Davies.

Charles Adams, left, was honored on June 12 at the Mormon Battalion Flag Day celebration, which recognized the contributions of African American soldiers. Photo by William Sinclair.

Elder David Barnes, director of the Mormon Battalion Historic Site, presents a children’s choir that performed at a Flag Day celebration on June 12. Photo by William Sinclair.