McElroy, Hugh (1884–1971)

By: Richard Allen Burns

Type: Biography

Published: April 1, 1995

Updated: May 17, 2017

Hugh McElroy, black soldier, was born in Springfield, Kentucky, on February 29, 1884, to Sarah and Thomas McElroy. In 1898 he lied about his age and enlisted in the Tenth United States Cavalry. He served in Cuba in the Spanish-American War and afterwards in the Philippine Insurrection. A few years after returning from the Pacific, McElroy and the Tenth participated in the border campaigns against Francisco (Pancho) Villa, accompanying Gen. John J. Pershing into Mexico in 1916. During World War I he landed in France with the 317th Engineers. On September 10, 1918, while attached to the Thirty-third Corps, Seventh French Army, he received from French war minister Georges Clemenceau the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action. He also received the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War I Victory Medal, the Philippine Insurrection Service Medal, the World War Volunteer Service Medal, and the National Defense Medal. He said that he was "always crazy about soldiering."

After his military service ended in 1927, McElroy followed his brother, Thomas, to Houston, where he was a hospital orderly. During World War II he was head janitor at Ellington Field. He also participated in bond drives as a speaker and poster model, for which Henry Morganthau, Jr., United States secretary of the treasury, cited him on January 11, 1945. McElroy was reportedly the first African American whose picture appeared as an advertisement for United States War Bonds. After the war he worked at local recruiting stations until retiring permanently. HemisFair '68 in San Antonio honored him in the Texas Pavilion by displaying a life-size portrait of him, beneath which was a recounting of his military record. In December of 1968 he and his oldest son rescued two children from a burning house near his Houston home. The Texas Senate commended the McElroys for their bravery. McElroy married Philamena Woodley in 1918, and they had four sons and two daughters. He died on December 29, 1971. A detachment from Fort Sam Houston buried him in Paradise Cemetery, Houston, with full military honors.

Robert Ewell Greene, Black Defenders of America, 1775–1973 (Chicago: Johnson, 1974). Houston Chronicle, October 6, 1968. Houston Post, August 29, 1965, December 4, 1968. Vertical Files, University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio.


  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Military

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • World War II


  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Richard Allen Burns, “McElroy, Hugh,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 17, 2021,

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April 1, 1995
May 17, 2017

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