Author Topic: Henry Johnson - worth reading  (Read 2727 times)

Offline DRobinson

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Henry Johnson - worth reading
« on: May 03, 2010, 06:55:40 am »
From today's Investors Business Daily.

In my opinion, worth an email to our Senators and Congress people. Not that posthumously awarding Johnson a Medal of Honor can right the wrongs, but at least it would set the record straight and acknowledge a truth of our country’s history.

A Hero With Harlem's Hellfighters
Posted 04/30/2010 04:54 PM ET

After his knife-wielding battle in May 1918, Johnson was promoted to sergeant and posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross. DG View Enlarged Image
At 5 feet 4 inches and 130 pounds, Henry Johnson didn't look that tough.

But early on May 15, 1918, in the thick of World War I, a German raiding party of two dozen found out otherwise.

Johnson, then a private in the famed Harlem Hellfighters, was on overnight sentry duty on the French battlefield. His unit was new in the sector, and the Germans seemed to be looking for easy prisoners.

Instead they found Johnson.

More than nine decades after the battle, the exact details are blurry. But what's undisputed is that Johnson, despite multiple wounds, fought off the attackers.

And when the Germans finally began to retreat, carrying his wounded comrade, Needham Roberts, off with them, Johnson drew his large knife and chased after them.

He wounded more of the attackers and rescued Roberts.

Soon after, France awarded him that nation's highest medal for bravery: the Croix de Guerre, with Gold Palm.

Johnson's Keys
•His bravery in Europe so impressed the French, they gave him what translates as the Cross of War.
•"I know I speak for all New Yorkers when I say his accomplishments during World War I on behalf of his comrades, fellow soldiers and the nation are nothing short of heroic," said Jim McDonough, director of the New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs.
Late Honors

Johnson, who was black in a segregated U.S. Army, didn't receive medals from his own country. At least not right away.

In 1996, President Clinton posthumously awarded Johnson a Purple Heart. And in 2003, the Pentagon awarded Johnson the Distinguished Service Cross.

"I really think he deserves the cross, and Negro history deserves it," his son, Herman Johnson, told Albany's Times Union in 2003. "Young blacks and African-Americans need to know we've been doing great things for years. It's important. And if we let these things die, people will never know about them."

Herman Johnson, himself a member of World War II's Tuskegee Airmen, died in 2004. He never stopped pushing for his dad to be awarded the Medal of Honor, America's highest military recognition.

Henry Johnson (1897-1929) was born in Alexandria, Va., and moved to Albany, N.Y., as a teenager.

With war raging in Europe and America having just entered the fray, Johnson enlisted in the Army in June 1917. He was assigned to Company C, 15th New York Infantry Regiment, an all-black National Guard unit, according to an account in the Times Union.

His unit, renamed the 369th, arrived in Europe on New Year's Day 1918. But the segregated Army didn't know what to do with these troops. At first, the unit did manual labor, digging trenches and unloading ships at the docks.

But the 369th's commanding officer, Col. William Haywood, promised his men that they would fight and pressed his higher-ups for combat. The unit was soon attached to the French army and sent to the Western Front's trenches.
"I have no idea why he would go and why anyone volunteers for something like that," said James Dandles, a Vietnam War veteran and president of the Albany chapter of the 369th Veterans' Association.

But Johnson and others did volunteer, despite the tepid response from the military. Then, Dandles says, the entire 369th honored itself on the battlefield.

Johnson and Roberts were on sentry duty until midnight that May 14, according to an account by author William Allison Sweeney soon after the war. The Germans had fired shots at them, and the two expected more trouble before the sun rose.

So when a corporal tried to send two green recruits to replace them at midnight, Johnson and Roberts offered to pull a double shift.

"I told him he was crazy to send untrained men out there and risk the rest of us," Johnson said, according to Sweeney's book "History of the American Negro in the Great World War." "I said I'd tackle the job, though I needed sleep."

At about 2 a.m., the pair heard the raiding party snipping barbed wire in front of their observation post. Then the Germans lobbed grenades at them, injuring both.

According to various accounts, Roberts was hurt worse.

So he lay prone and handed up grenades to Johnson, who lobbed them toward the Germans.

Once out of grenades, he moved to his rifle, firing until it jammed. After that, the Germans were on top of them, and Johnson used his rifle as a club to beat back the attackers.

When he saw the retreating Germans hauling his friend off, he drew his knife and went after them.

Accounts differ as to how many Germans were killed or wounded in the fight. Johnson's Distinguished Service Cross citation notes at least two cut and one shot. Commanders at the time believed several casualties, based on blood trails they followed to German trenches.

Promoted to sergeant, Johnson downplayed the clash. "There isn't so much to tell," he told Sweeney. "There wasn't anything so fine about it. Just fought for my life."

The French authorities thought more of his actions, bestowing medals on the two wounded Americans. Johnson's carried the Gold Palm, the highest distinction.

Weeks after the war's 1918 end, the 369th was feted with a hero's parade in New York's Harlem neighborhood, with Johnson waving from a convertible. Governors and former president and Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt praised him.

Among Other Heroes

Johnson was buried at Virginia's Arlington National Cemetery. But even that honor was soon forgotten. His family didn't even know, believing he was buried in a pauper's grave outside Albany. The Johnsons discovered his final resting place in 2002.

Some veterans say Johnson deserves more: the Medal of Honor.

"We forget them too easily," said Joe Pollicino, director of the Albany County Veterans Service Bureau. "These guys volunteered and fought for their country. And even though he got the Distinguished Service Cross, he never got his just due."

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: Henry Johnson - worth reading
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2010, 07:58:34 am »
thank you thank you thank you for this post.