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 Re-Discovering the Unknown: World War I’s South Asian Soldiers in the US Military

By Tanveer Kalo
via The Aerogram web site

Tanveer Kalo of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, is researching the stories of South Asians who fought for the United States in the Great War. He writes about how the project began during his internship at the United States World War I Centennial Commission.

The First World War was not only the United States’ first global conflict, but it was also the first time in which a truly diverse American military was able to showcase its strength and resolve on the battlefields of Europe. Among this diverse American Expeditionary Force was a group of South Asian soldiers. In the Spring of 2017, I completed an internship at the United States World War I Centennial Commission in Washington D.C. My assigned responsibility as an intern involved creating an original historical database on the service and lives of the South Asian soldiers during the war.

WWI soldiersThis project originated from a simple conversation I had with my supervisor at the Commission, Mr. Chris Christopher. I was sharing information that I had found about Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind’s service in the U.S. Army. Dr. Thind was one of the first South Asians and turbaned Sikhs to serve in the American armed forces. Mr. Christopher advised me to investigate more into Dr. Thind’s time with the American Military during the war.

As I did, I referred to Young India, a journal and newspaper publication from the South Asian American Digital Archives (SAADA). Using this resource, I uncovered the fact that more South Asians had participated in the conflict on behalf of the United States. The August and October 1918 issues of Young India listed the names and included photographs of South Asians who were in training or deployed overseas to Europe.

I utilized the information from Young India to identify primary documents catalogued on the website ancestryinstitution.com. Over a period of four months, I examined, analyzed and collected hundreds of records, such as naturalization papers, federal census documents, military registration cards, and more, in order to recreate accounts specific to the lives of these soldiers and relative to their military service. My searches used the moment they arrived in the U.S. as a common starting point and traced through time to their last known life event.

Read the entire article on The Aerogram web site.

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