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World War II-era photo of black regiment fills niche at restaurant

This 1940 photograph of the 369th Infantry Regiment has been hung in the Cracker Barrel in Spring Hill by the African American Club of Hernando County.

Special to the Times

This 1940 photograph of the 369th Infantry Regiment has been hung in the Cracker Barrel in Spring Hill by the African American Club of Hernando County.

SPRING HILL — The wall of the restaurant was missing something, some diversity of experience, some recognition of a forgotten history. Charlene Johnston knew a way to make it right.

Johnston returned to the Cracker Barrel with a World War II-era picture of her late father and his fellow soldiers in the 369th Infantry Regiment.

After getting approval from the restaurant's corporate office in Tennessee, the photo now graces the wall.

"It's a terrific picture," Johnston said. "It'll be a nice touch."

Johnston and a handful of local members of the 369th Infantry Regiment, sometimes known as the "Harlem Hellfighters," met at the Cracker Barrel at 1371 Commercial Way in Spring Hill on Thursday to celebrate the "unveiling" of the picture.

It was a rare meeting for the handful of surviving men who served in what was known as the first black regiment as far back as the first World War.

"To have the picture hanging in there, it's an honor," said Arthur Gittens, 82, of Spring Hill. "Just talking about it, it's all coming back to me."

Johnston said the photo lets customers get a sense of the sacrifice that soldiers like her father, Cpl. Louis Batson, made for their country.

During that time, black soldiers were in segregated units and were even assigned to the French Army to preserve the separation from white American soldiers.

"It was the kind of thing that grounded them," Johnston said. "There was still a lot of patriotism among black people then."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

World War II-era photo of black regiment fills niche at restaurant 11/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 24, 2008 8:24pm]

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