2 Soldiers to Be Honored for Their Valor—in 1918

Henry Johnson, William Shemin will receive Medal of Honor posthumously
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 2, 2015 8:33 AM CDT
2 Soldiers to Be Honored for Their Valor—in 1918
Sgt. William Shemin, second from left, with fellow soldiers.   (US Army)

Pvt. Henry Johnson is "one of the five bravest American soldiers in the war," Theodore Roosevelt once wrote. Today, Johnson will finally be recognized for his valor—almost a century after he joined an all-black National Guard unit and helped fight off German attackers while on loan to French forces during World War I. One of two soldiers to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor today at the White House, Johnson and a fellow soldier were ambushed while on night sentry duty under a French Army colonial unit in the Champagne region on May 15, 1918, the New York Times reports. With his compatriot seriously wounded, Johnson held off at least a dozen enemy soldiers. An Army account has this to say of his bravery: "Wielding only a knife and being seriously wounded, Johnson continued fighting, took his bolo knife, and stabbed it through an enemy soldier's head." He sustained 21 combat injuries in the war and died in 1929.

"His act of heroism was amazing," says Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has for years fought for the recognition for Johnson, and who in 2011 submitted a 1,258-page document in support of it. (Much credit goes to former Schumer staffer Caroline Wekselbaum, 32, who in 2011 discovered two documents attesting to Johnson's valor; more here.) Sgt. William Shemin will also receive the Medal of Honor for having recovered wounded American soldiers during a three-day battle on France's Vesle River in August 1918. He "dashed out across the open in full sight of the Germans, who opened and maintained a furious burst of machine-gun and rifle fire," the Army says. A bullet sliced through his helmet and wedged behind his left ear, but he survived, dying in 1973. "I felt an enormous sense of pride as an American Jew, and for him, and for our family, and for the entire Jewish community," his daughter, 86, says of learning of the honor, per the Washington Post. (Read more Medal of Honor stories.)

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