An Army sergeant who singlehandedly fought off roughly two dozen German soldiers and saved a comrade during World War I nearly 100 years ago is being considered for the Medal of Honour by Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, The Associated Press reports.
If Hagel — and the president — signs off on the award recommendation for Sgt. Henry Johnson, a soldier who served in the segregated 369th Infantry Regiment “Harlem Hellfighters” in 1918, he would be just the second African-American soldier serving in World War I to receive the nation’s highest award for heroism.
New York Daily News has more:
Johnson is credited with single-handedly fighting off a nighttime raid by more than 20 Germans in May 1918, and saving a colleague, Needham Roberts, from capture.
Wounded, the five-foot-four Johnson used his rifle and knife to kill and wound several Germans trying to carry off Roberts, according to contemporary accounts. The rest of the Germans retreated.
Johnson’s heroism was well-known, but largely ignored by military officials in an era of Jim Crow laws. He received the French Croix de Guerre at the time, and years later was posthumously awarded the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, according to AP.
“Everybody knew who Henry Johnson was,” Jack McEneny, a historian and retired state lawmaker in Albany, N.Y. who has advocated Johnson’s case for 40 years, told AP. “He was a major source of pride and a realisation for the black community and the white community of the value of African-Americans to the loyalty of this country.”
As it stands now, Cpl. Freddie Stowers is the only African-American recipient of the Medal of Honour for World War I. His award came 73 years after he died rallying his men to attack an enemy trench line, according to the U.S. Army.
But Johnson’s application has picked up steam after being pushed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose staff found Army documents relating his heroics from May 1918.
“It’s been a long process but we’re finally at the goal-line,” Schumer told the Daily News. “We’re close to righting a wrong that was done 100 years ago.”
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