Here’s another reason the suspicious death of Cannonball Dick Redding in a Long Island mental hospital/house of horrors in 1948 is so heart achingly tragic: He served in World War I as a Buffalo Soldier in one of the highly decorated all-black units that first gained fame as calvary men during the Western campaigns of the late 19th century.
Above is a photo of such a unit in The Great War, with soldiers hunkered down in the infamous trenches that marked the horrible conflict. Below is a posed photo of a WWI Buffalo Soldier unit.
Dick Redding enlisted as a private in the Army in May 1918 at the age of 25. He was assigned to the 367th infantry of the the 92nd division, a group that was mustered in November 1917 and, like pretty much all African-American military units of the time, was led by white officers, although each unit had enlisted men who were promoted to sergeant, etc. The regiment’s motto was “See It Through.”
The 367th was, quite simply, one of the most decorated and honored unit of Buffalo Soldiers in The War to End All Wars. Wrote one historian several decades ago: “Quite naturally, and with pardonable pride, all the officers and men of each unit of the 92nd Division regard their particular unit as having contributed most to the glory of that Division and to the record of the achievements of Negro troops upon battlefields overseas. However, it will probably not be disputed that the 367th U. S. Infantry was, in some respects, the most notable unit of the 92nd Division.”
The regiment didn’t see action until the very tail end of the war, in the Meuse-Argonne campaign, one of the key efforts that essentially clinched victory for the Allies. The entire 1st battalion of the 367th — including, possibly, Dick Redding — was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French military for its valiant protection of another unit that was besieged during the drive toward Metz on Nov. 10-11.
In addition, the group distinguished itself 10 days earlier. Of that service, one of the 367th’s white commanding officers, Maj. Charles Appleton, issued a glowing citation for bravery that stated: “Under intense shell fire of gas and H. S. lasting two hours, the company maintained its advanced positions, staying there without any shelter and finally repelling the enemy raid and capturing one prisoner.”
Armistice occurred on Nov. 11, signaling the end of hostilities and, therefore, the termination of the war, at least on the Western front. The 367th returned to the States and was disbanded in 1919.
But, in the context of this blog, it’s absolutely necessary to mention that the 92nd also had one heck of a ball club, a fact detailed in the May 23, 1918, edition of the Brooklyn Eagle. “The team is a wonder, and many hot contests are in prospect, the paper stated. “From the Buffalo point of view, the best the professional [baseball] field holds today could just manage to work up an interesting contest, and there is a lot of money in camp that would back the negro soldiers if such a game were arranged.”
The squad was stocked with, well, ringers from the best African-American baseball teams in the country, including left-handed fireballer Dick Redding.
Once the regiment and division were dissolved in 1919, Redding received his discharge in March of that year and immediately returned to professional baseball with the Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City.
After his mysterious death at Pilgrim State Hospital on Halloween 1948, Redding was buried in Long Island National Cemetery with military honors. His widowed wife Edna was buried next to him after she passed three years later. You can find information about Redding’s gravesite here.