Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Mike Doyle (14th District of Pennsylvania)
Washington, DC – U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (PA-18) recognized Wilkinsburg resident Henry Parham earlier today on the House Floor for his service to our nation in the D-Day invasion 75 years ago.
“I’m very proud to represent Mr. Parham in Congress,” Congressman Doyle said today on the House Floor.
Mr. Parham is believed to be the last African-American combat veteran who took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy. He served in the U.S. Army’s 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion during World War II. It was the only African-American combat unit to land in Normandy on June 6, 1944. The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion went ashore on D-Day in order to set up defenses protecting the landing zone against attacks by enemy aircraft, and then it operated the barrage balloons for more than two months.
“Back then the Army – like most of American society – was segregated,” Congressman Doyle observed in his remarks. “Nevertheless, these African Americans risked their lives to serve their country – even as they faced Jim Crow laws and racist violence back home. Needless to say, the German bombs and bullets didn’t discriminate. Two thousand Americans died on Omaha Beach that day – including men from the 320th.”
Three weeks after D-Day, the Supreme Allied Commander in charge of the invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, awarded the 320th a unit commendation for the “splendid manner” in which it carried out its duties, writing “Despite the losses sustained, the battalion carried out its mission with courage and determination, and proved an important element of the air defense team…. I commend you and the officers and men of your battalion for your fine effort which has merited the praise of all who have observed it.”
Mr. Parham was born in Greenville, Virginia, in 1921, and he grew up in Richmond, Virginia. Before he joined the Army, he worked for the National Trailways bus company in Richmond. After the war, he returned to his old job. He moved to Pittsburgh in 1949. He retired after 34 years as a construction worker in 1994. In 2013, Mr. Parham was awarded the rank of Chevalier in the Legion of Honor by the French Government in recognition of his contributions to the liberation of France in World War II. Mr. Parham has been an active member of the American Legion for many years, including as Commander of Post 736, and he and his wife have been volunteers at the Pittsburgh VA.
Click here to watch the video of Congressman Doyle’s speech honoring Mr. Parham.