Thursday, June 13, 2019

Birth of Haig Shekerjian (June 13, 1886)

Brigadier General Haig Shekerjian was the first cadet of Armenian descent to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and one of the highest ranking Armenian Americans ever to serve in the U.S. military.

Shekerjian was born on June 13, 1886, in Adabazar, Izmit, Turkey. He moved to the U.S. at the age of five with his parents Hagop, a worker, and Esther (Alexanian), a homemaker. He entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1907 and graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Science degree.

He served in the U.S. army with a commission as second lieutenant of infantry, and from April 1916-February 1917, he participated in the campaign in Mexico against Pancho Villa under General John J. Pershing. During World War I, he served as assistant military attaché in Greece, and then with the Allied armies of the Orient in the Middle East. In 1919 he visited Western and Eastern Armenia with the American military mission, witnessing the desperate circumstances in which Armenians lived. In 1923 he was transferred to the Chemical Warfare Service and stayed with the branch until his retirement in 1946.

Shekerjian became the first Armenian American brigadier-general by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. He was appointed commanding general of the Chemical Warfare Replacement Training Center from 1942-43, commanding general of Camp Sibert, in Alabama, from 1943-45, and deputy head of the Army and Navy Liquidation Commission, U.S. Middle East Theater of Operations (1945-46).
During World War II, Shekerjian reached out many times to the Armenian American community to garner support for the war effort. He was awarded the Army Commendation Ribbon and the Legion of Merit for his services.

After retirement, Shekerjian was involved in the work of the American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA), headed by George Mardikian, the restaurateur and humanitarian based in San Francisco. The organization assisted thousands of Armenians, former German war prisoners taken from the Soviet army, who had been left stranded in Europe, especially in Germany. In 1948 Shekerjian left for Germany, where he became chief ANCHA resident representative near the Armenian Displaced Persons (DPs)’ Camp at Stuttgart. He was instrumental in the relocation of some 3,500 Armenians, mostly to the United States after a bill allowed an exception to the rigid quota of immigration and allowed the DPs to enter the country. Others went to South America and the Middle East.

Brigadier-general Haig Shekerjian passed away in San Francisco on January 22, 1966, at the age of seventy-nine. This distinguished member of the U.S. military is buried at the National Cemetery of San Francisco, along his wife, Helen Bain Shekerjian (1892-1982).