Medal Of Honor In View For African American World War I Hero?


Sergeant Henry Johnson of the “Harlem Hellfighters”

Senator Charles E. Schumer says a provision he authored, which would secure the Medal of Honor for the late World War I hero and Albany resident, Sergeant Henry Johnson, is included in the just-unveiled National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Schumer said that the House could vote on the NDAA as early as this Thursday and the Senate will then vote on the same bill next week. If the bill passes both houses, the request for Sgt. Henry Johnson to receive the Medal of Honor will head to the President’s desk. Schumer is urging his colleagues in both the House and Senate to vote for the bill and right a century-old wrong.

Schumer has led the fight to get Sgt. Henry Johnson, an African-American WWI hero, the Medal of Honor he has long been denied due to segregation, but deserves for his bravery and heroism during WWI. Schumer explained that, under current law, a Medal of Honor must be awarded within five years of when the heroic act being recognized took place. Therefore, before the President can consider the Medal of Honor application Schumer submitted on Johnson’s behalf, Congress has to pass legislation specifically allowing Sgt. Johnson’s case to be considered.

In his efforts to try to make this a reality, Schumer first introduced and passed a bill in the Senate that would waive the timing restriction and allow Johnson’s application to be considered by the President. This legislation passed the Senate with unanimous consent, but it has not yet passed the House of Representatives, which is the last remaining hurdle before it heads to the President’s desk. To supplement this effort, just last month, Schumer launched an additional strategy to secure the Medal of Honor for Sgt. Johnson. In addition to trying to pass a stand-alone bill through both houses of Congress, Schumer successfully pushed for an amendment to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which also waives the timing restrictions on the Medal of Honor and makes this recognition for Sgt. Johnson a reality.

“This is a momentous milestone in our quest to secure the Medal of Honor for Sgt. Henry Johnson that he has long been denied. The inclusion of this provision in the national defense authorization bill means that we are on the precipice of finally making this Medal a reality,” Schumer said. “All we need now is for this bill to pass both the House and the Senate, and then the request heads straight to the President’s desk. I am urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress to vote for this bill and help us right a nearly century-old wrong. We are so close to the finish line, and I will not stop pushing until the President has signed off and Johnson gets the recognition he deserves.”

Sergeant Henry Johnson, an African American who was part of the “Harlem Hellfighters” that served under French Command due to segregation, was not properly recognized for gallantry during his lifetime. During World War I, then-private Henry Johnson fought with the French on the Western Front because of discriminatory laws in the United States. On May 14, 1918, Johnson came under attack by a German raider party of approximately 20 men.

Despite sustaining numerous gunshot wounds, Johnson fought off entire German advance, rescued his fellow soldier from certain capture, and acquired a large cache of enemy weapons. Schumer said that Johnson accomplished these actions with little training, a jammed rifle, and a bolo knife against an overwhelming German unit that was well trained during a raid that was carefully planned and meant to capture prisoners.

Schumer said that, if not for Johnson’s bravery, with total disregard for his own life, his fellow soldiers would have been captured, a cache of weapons and supplies would not have been acquired by the allies, and valuable intelligence would have gone to the enemy. Johnson, who was permanently disabled after the fight, was issued a communique from General Pershing commending his service, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, one of the highest military honors of France, for his bravery in battle.

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