ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- One month after a serious setback, the campaign to
award a black World War I soldier the nation's highest honor got support
from two fronts.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and a U.S. senator
from Missouri each have sent letters to President Bush supporting a
Medal of Honor for Henry Johnson of Albany.
Calling Johnson's snubbing a "terrible injustice," VFW
Commander in Chief John Gwizdak urged Bush to review the circumstances
surrounding the heroism that earned Johnson France's highest military
honor. The Kansas City-based VFW is America's oldest veteran's
organization with nearly 2 million members in 9,500 posts.
"As you are aware, because of segregation policies that existed
in the military at the time, no African-American from either World War I
or World War II was awarded the Medal of Honor until the early
1990s," Gwizdak wrote in a letter dated Tuesday. "It is our
belief that Sergeant Johnson, through his conspicuous acts of extreme
gallantry and intrepidity deserves the Medal of Honor."
A call to a White House spokesman Friday was not immediately
Johnson went to France as a private with an all-black infantry
regiment. But he was not allowed to fight in an American combat unit
because he was black.
So he joined a group of black soldiers, known as the Harlem
Hell-Fighters, who fought under the French flag.
In 1918, he was awarded France's highest military honor -- and
promoted to sergeant -- after single-handedly saving a comrade's life
while fighting off a German raiding party, despite suffering 21 wounds.
He died destitute and unrecognized in 1938 at age 58, though his
white comrades received the award for similar acts of valor.
Last month, Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, declined to endorse the U.S. Army's recommendation that Johnson
be granted the medal posthumously. A three-general panel advised Shelton
to deny the application on two grounds, asserting Johnson didn't qualify
for the medal and the nomination was not processed according to
According to procedure, recipients must be nominated within three
years of the act, and the stories of heroism must be verified.
Sen. Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican who represents Johnson's son,
Herman, also wrote Bush seeking recognition for Johnson.
"The contemporaneous reports of Johnson's heroic exploits in
combat while serving with the "Harlem Hell Fighters" of the
369th Infantry Regiment warrant full consideration for the Medal of
Honor," Bond wrote.
John Howe, the Veterans Association's Albany district historian who
has pushed for Johnson's recognition, said the added muscle of the VFW
and Bond may be enough to overturn Shelton's decision and get Johnson
the Medal of Honor.
"(The VFW) carries a lot of weight," he said. "I think
veterans in particular are a community that knows how to respond to
issues that are really in their best interest."