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Story ran on Saturday, May 19 2001

VFW Commander Urges President Bush to Award

World War I Hero Medal of Honor

The Commander in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars today urged President Bush to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to a World War I soldier and requested a review in response to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff disapproving the award.

"I have personally requested President Bush to review the case of Army Sergeant Henry Johnson," said VFW Commander in Chief John F. Gwizdak, of Stockbridge, Ga. "Johnson is a hero and is deserving of our nationís highest military award."

Johnson, from Albany, New York, was a member of Co. C. 369th U.S. Infantry (formerly the 15th New York Guard), which was under French command at Argonne during World War I. On May 14, 1918, Johnson and Private Needham Roberts were on watch when a 24-member German raiding party launched an attack, seeking prisoners to interrogate about the new Black regiment in the French Fourth Army. Roberts was seriously wounded in the fire exchange and carried off as a prisoner.

Johnson, also seriously wounded, left the safety of his position and engaged the Germans in hand-to-hand combat to rescue his comrade. Johnson, who was wounded 20 times, forced the enemy to withdraw and rescued his fellow "Harlem Hell Fighter." The battle later became known as "The Battle of Henry Johnson."

Johnson was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, becoming the first American to receive the award. While other members of his division received a Medal of Honor, Johnson, an African American, has never been recognized with an U.S. decoration for valor, although he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996. Last year, the governor of New York, George Pataki, began a campaign to award the Medal of Honor to Johnson. The Senior Army Decorations Board reviewed and approved the award recommendation after former Secretary of the Army, the Hon. Louis Caldera, recommended Johnson for the award.

General Henry Shelton, chairman of the joint chiefs, recently denied the awardís approval because Johnsonís action did not meet todayís criteria for the Medal of Honor.

"An Army Review Board and the Army Secretary approved this award," Gwizdak said "Johnson reacted with extraordinary heroism, risking his own life to save the life of another. We have no reason to question his valor."

"It is very apparent that he was a victim of the times. Itís time now to focus our efforts on making it right by petitioning the president and members of Congress to award him what he rightfully earned: the Medal of Honor," Gwizdak added. "Itís never too late to do that."

The VFW assists all veterans and their families obtain veteransí entitlements and other services. In addition, the organization works for the well being of those serving on active duty, in the National Guard and the Reserves. The VFW was founded in 1899. There are 2.7 million members of the VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary located in approximately 9,500 Posts worldwide.