Haig Shekerjian was born on June 13, 1886, in the city of İzmit in the Ottoman Empire. He was only 5 years old when he together with this parents Hagop and Esther moved to the city of Fresno (California, USA).
Haig’s father was a simple worker, while mother was a housewife. “Once I asked my father why I was named Haig. I was ten years old. I remember how my father sat me on his knee and said: ‘Haig is the father of the Armenian people, our formidable titan, and I want you to also become a strong warrior who will defend his people.’ Father’s stories played an important role for me,” recalled Haig Shekerjian.
In 1907, Haig enrolled in the US Military Academy at West Point, which is still considered one of the most prestigious military academies in the world. In 1911, on his birthday, young Haig Shekerjian became the first Armenian graduate of the Academy of the US Armed Forces. After his studies, he was assigned to military service as a lieutenant of the US Army.
From April 1916 to February 1917, Shekerjian under the command of General John Pershing participated in the punitive expedition of the American Army against Mexican revolutionary “Pancho” Villa in Mexico. During WWI, Haig also served as an assistant military attaché in Greece and fought in the ranks of the Allied forces in the Middle East.
In 1916, Haig became one of the main contributors to the creation of the Armenian Legion of France which would participate in the most serious military operations in the Middle East.
In 1923, Haig Shekerjian was assigned to chemical protection troops, where he would serve for 39 years and retire in 1946.
By the order of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1942, Shekerjian was granted the rank of Brigadier General of the US Army, becoming the first Armenian to receive this rank. He was appointed the commander of the chemical troop training center where he would serve from 1942 to 1943. In 1943-45, he served in the same position in the training center Sibert in Alabama.
After WWII, Haig Shekerjian said about representatives of Armenian communities: “From personal experience, I discovered that Americans of Armenian origin are excellent soldiers. During this war, I knew many soldiers of Armenian descent.
These people feel their responsibility. As Armenians, they fought and fight to preserve human values just like how our ancestors had fought to preserve the ideals that belonged to them on earth, where Mount Ararat raised majestic towers to accept Noah’s Ark. Armenians have gone through many difficult years but never lost heart.”
In 1945, Shekerjian became the deputy commander of the naval liquidation commission. While traveling in Asia Minor, Shekerjian witnessed the terrible conditions in which the Armenians lived. “I am familiar with the situation in Caesarea, Erzincan, Erzurum, Kars, Alexandropol, and Zangezur. I remember thousands of little orphans roaming throughout Armenia. The future of these children seemed hopeless. We had to do everything we could to help them,” he wrote.
After WWII, there were about 3.500 Armenian refugees in Germany. George Mardikian, the owner of the Omar Khayyam restaurant chain in Fresno and San Francisco, met some of the refugees during his visit to Germany. Returning to America, he set about creating an Armenian-American community to help his compatriots.
Soon, the American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA) was formed. The leaders of the organization appealed to Shekerjian with a request to be their representative in Germany. Shekerjian’s primary task was to ensure that the basic needs of the people were met. In 1948, General Haig Shekerjian together with his wife Helen Russell Bane moved to Germany and became the main ANCHA representative in Stuttgart.
During his work, Shekerjian helped settle more than 3.000 Armenians. He managed their employment, organized a special assistance fund, and initiated the creation of the first organizations in the community.
“My father told me about Shekerjian back in 1947 when I was just applying to West Point. He was the first of us who achieved such success in the US Military Academy, becoming a good example for the rest.
I found that many of the militaries are completely unfamiliar with Armenians and Armenia. Making progress in this field is one of the important ways to fix it. And the majority of Armenians did it. Peter Mirakian did. Vahan Van Vartanian did, George Juskalian did. And I did,” recalled retired Lieutenant Colonel of the US Army Sargis Semerjian.
The great son of the Armenian people Haig Shekerjian passed away on January 22, 1966. Thousands of American Armenians from all over the country came to see the legendary general on his last journey. Many streets in Los Angeles, Fresno, Boston, Glendale, New York, Washington, and Florida are named after Shekerdjian.