Black WWI Soldier May Get Medal of Honor

Henry Johnson fought off Germans to save fellow soldier

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 26, 2014 3:50 PM CDT

(Newser) – A black World War I soldier who single-handedly fought off nearly two dozen Germans with only a knife and a jammed rifle to save a fellow soldier is on his way to getting the nation's highest military honor almost a century after the fact. Defense chief Chuck Hagel has written a letter to Congress on behalf of Sgt. Henry Johnson recommending that he receive the Medal of Honor posthumously, reports AP. Sen. Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, is introducing legislation to exempt the former Albany resident from the stipulation that the medal be given within five years of the heroics.

The Albany Times-Union has details on Johnson's feat, noting that historians have taken to calling it the "Battle of Henry Johnson." He and another sentry were overrun by about 20 German soldiers on May 15, 1918, and both were seriously wounded. Johnson, however, managed to save them both, in part by using his jammed rifle as a club. Johnson got no US recognition for his bravery in the immediate aftermath of the war, and he died poor in a veterans' hospital at age 32. Black vets and his relatives have been pushing for the Medal of Honor for Johnson, who fought in the all-black unit known as the "Harlem Hellfighters." (Click to read about a modern recipient who earned his medal in Afghanistan.)

A statue of Henry Johnson is displayed in the Arbor Hill neighborhood in Albany.
A statue of Henry Johnson is displayed in the Arbor Hill neighborhood in Albany.   (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)
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