February 12, 2001


Governor has Led Five-Year Effort to Obtain Nation's Highest Military Honor

Governor George E. Pataki today sent a letter to United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in support of the long-delayed Medal of Honor tribute for World War I hero, Sgt. Henry Johnson. Governor Pataki has led a five-year effort to help obtain the nation's highest military honor for Sgt. Johnson.

"Sgt. Henry Johnson is not only a hometown hero for the residents of Albany, but also a national hero," Governor Pataki said. "It has been almost 83 years since Sgt. Henry Johnson single handedly battled an entire German raiding party with a rifle, and then faced his foes in hand-to-hand combat. He received over 20 wounds, yet, through his own determination and heroism, prevailed against the enemy.

"The actions of men like Sgt. Henry Johnson were doubly significant in that they not only helped win great victories for their nation, they also helped to explode the myths that were the underpinnings of racial segregation in America," the Governor said.

In 1996, the Governor directed Division of Military and Naval Affairs (DMNA) to research, compile and officially submit through the appropriate military chain of command, the nomination package necessary to secure the Medal of Honor for Sgt. Johnson. After a four-year battle, including additional research, analysis, and letters from the Governor to the Secretaries of the Army and Defense, the Army announced in January that it intends to recommend Johnson for the Medal of Honor.

Johnson was an Albany native, who enlisted in the New York National Guard's 15th Infantry from Harlem and was deployed to France in 1917. Renamed the 369th US Infantry Regiment, the all black unit served in the trenches alongside French forces because of the U.S. Army's segregation policies at the time.

While serving with the 369th, Johnson is credited with repulsing an entire German patrol and carrying a wounded comrade to safety despite suffering 21 wounds himself. The 369th served longer in combat than any other U.S. unit and participated in numerous battles. The unit never retreated or lost ground in battle.

Johnson was decorated for uncommon valor by the French government, and along with companion Needham Roberts, became the first American ever awarded France's highest military award for heroism, the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm.

Major General Jack Fenimore, who serves as New York's Adjutant General, said "The Division of Military and Naval Affairs is very proud to have played a role in helping to ensure that this courageous soldier is duly recognized for his heroism. The effort to obtain official recognition of Sgt. Johnson's heroism was complicated by Army Regulations governing the awarding of the Medal of Honor and lost records. DMNA historical personnel were able to prove through documentation that a previous award recommendation for Johnson had been lost decades ago."

In addition, eyewitness testimony of Johnson's valor in the form of filmed veteran's interviews were included in the nomination package along with other materials submitted later in response to Army concerns and questions. These demonstrated that white veterans had received numerous awards, including the Medal of Honor for similar actions during the same period and locations, and under similar conditions.

"Sgt. Henry Johnson was a true American Hero and I am committed to seeing to it that this courageous New Yorker receives the nation's highest military honor,"the Governor said. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, I urge the Secretary of Defense to move forward to ensure that this great American finally receives the recognition he is due."