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These are photos that I took about three years ago on a visit to Washington Park in Albany, NY of the Henry Johnson Monument, commemorating the bravery and valor displayed by Sgt. Johnson during his service in World War I.
Later today at the White House, President Obama will award two posthumous Medal of Honors, one to Sgt. William Shemin (who was Jewish) and one to Sgt. Henry Johnson, both of whom fought in France during WWI.
Henry Johnson was born in 1897 in Virginia and moved to Albany, New York in his teens. He enlisted in the all Black National Guard unit, which was called up in the 19-teens. Because of racial tensions and white soldiers’ refusal to work alongside Black soldiers (even though all were Americans), General Pershing authorized their loan to the French government where Henry Johnson fought valiantly and unendingly. He fought off a 20 person raiding party of Germans. That is such a watered down one-sentence does-not-give-it-justice summary of the real story.
The French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre for his service and selfless bravery. He was the first American soldier to receive the Croix de Guerre with star and Gold Palm in World War I.
He was finally awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 by President Bill Clinton and the Distinguished Cross in 2003 was awarded to his son on his behalf. Sgt. Johnson’s son, Herman Johnson was one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
It was thought that Henry was buried in a pauper’s grave in Albany after his death in 1929, but is buried in Arlington Cemetery, and that, as they say, is also another story.
Finally, President Obama is rectifying a wrong almost one hundred years old.
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