Recommendation to honor black WWI veteran
By Brian Burnes
Knight Ridder Newspapers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Army
has recommended that Henry Johnson, an African-American World War I veteran
who died in 1937, receive the Medal of Honor.
"When they called, tears
came to my eyes," said Johnson's son, Herman Johnson of Kansas City.
"It's really great for Dad, and even if he is not here personally to
receive the accolade, I am sure he is someplace where he knows it is
The recommendation came in the
last hours of the Clinton administration. Johnson's supporters had worried
that they would have to renew their effort with a new administration.
For years, Albany residents
have urged that a Medal of Honor be awarded to Johnson, a member of the 369th
Infantry Regiment, a black unit of the New York National Guard that served in
In May 1918, Johnson fought
off a patrol of German soldiers as they attempted to capture Needham Roberts,
another member of the 369th. Johnson rescued Roberts, killing or wounding
several German soldiers in the process.
For the rest of the war, the
369th never lost a member as a prisoner of war, in large part because of
For his heroism, Johnson
received the French Croix de Guerre, or war cross. But outside of a Purple
Heart awarded in 1996, the American government did not recognize Johnson's
bravery. This was despite recent efforts by the military to recognize veterans
of World War I and II whose courage might have gone unrecognized because of
racial attitudes of the times.
"The effort to obtain
this honor for Henry Johnson is not just about ensuring that his heroism is
formally acknowledged by the American people," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer,
D-N.Y. said in announcing the recommendation.
"It is also about
ensuring that black soldiers who were denied equal treatment during their
service in our nation's once segregated Army are not denied recognition for
their achievements and valor."
The secretary of defense and
the president must approve the decoration, but the Army's recommendation is
virtually always honored.