FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 24, 2012
SCHUMER UNVEILS NATIONAL ONLINE PETITION IN SUPPORT OF MEDAL OF HONOR FOR WWI HERO, SERGEANT HENRY JOHNSON
Schumer Launches Grass Roots Effort With Online Petition, Featured on Schumer & PBS Websites – Senator Has Received Significant Outreach In Support of Award & Petition May Provide Extra Boost Necessary to Honor Johnson’s Legacy
Schumer Also Officially Unveiled More New Evidence Uncovered By His Office Than Ever Before – Sgt. Johnson Resided in Albany and Fought Bravely in WWI & Johnson’s Heroic Actions are Worthy of the Medal of Honor
Schumer: Despite Compelling Evidence Presented to Military By Schumer, Case Remains Pending – The Nation Should Get Behind Henry Johnson
Today, at Washington Park’s Henry Johnson Statue in Albany, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced the launch of a national online petition to urge all decision-makers to expeditiously award the Medal of Honor to the late World War I hero, Sgt. Henry Johnson. The decision-makers include the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and President of the United States. In March 2011, Schumer and his staff revealed that they had uncovered game-changing evidence to support the posthumous award of the military’s highest honor to Johnson. On May 15, 2011, Schumer submitted a nearly-1300 page request for reconsideration, which included a wealth of never-considered evidence containing the incontestable proof showing that Johnson deserves this award.
Schumer was joined by local veterans and elected officials in his unveiling of this national online petition and in providing an official list of more additional evidence than has previously been made public, all of which has been discovered by Schumer and his office in the past two years. Despite these discoveries, however, the case remains pending. Earlier this month, Schumer appeared in an episode of PBS’ History Detectives that featured a painting depicting the Battle of Henry Johnson. This painting is contained in Schumer’s new recommendation, and he stated that this serves as even further proof of Johnson’s worthiness for the Medal of Honor. Schumer’s new online petition appears on his website - which PBS will promote and direct readers to - for New Yorkers and everyone throughout the world to show their support for the effort to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Henry Johnson by signing the petition.
The national petition can be found here: http://www.schumer.senate.gov/Contact/henryjohnson.cfm
“Sergeant Henry Johnson’s heroic tale is inspiring a nation, and it’s vital that our military leaders and the President finally award Sgt. Henry Johnson this long overdue Medal of Honor,” said Schumer. “The ‘Honoring Henry Johnson’ petition will bolster the effort to bring attention to this incredible and historic cause, and I believe all New Yorkers should feel compelled to honor great Americans like Henry Johnson, who continue to do so much for us in our nation’s time of need, regardless of their race. All it takes to show support for this cause is a quick e-signature on this petition. It’s never a bad idea to redress the wrongs of the past, and this petition is a crucial step in correcting a past injustice.”
While on guard duty around 3AM on May 15, 1918, then-Private Johnson, a volunteer with the New York National Guard serving under French command due to segregation, came under attack by a well-trained and well-armed German raider party of about two dozen. Despite his severe injuries, including sustaining an estimated 21 gunshot wounds, Johnson continued fighting bravely, with total disregard for his own safety. He fought off the Germans and rescued one of his fellow soldiers with just a rifle (which jammed), a bolo knife and his bare hands. Sgt. Johnson, an Albany resident and African-American soldier serving in a segregated Army, received the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, one of the French military’s highest honors, for his bravery in battle during World War I.
Years later, in concert with Johnson activists, including the late John Howe, a Vietnam veteran, Schumer helped secure the second-highest American military honor for Johnson, the Distinguished Service Cross, in 2003. On May 15, 2011, Schumer submitted a nearly 1300-page recommendation urging the Army to reconsider the case for the Medal of Honor in light of compelling and newly discovered evidence. Schumer’s package contains a plethora of new documents, including the ultimate chain-of-command endorsement from WWI Commander of the war in Europe General John Pershing; an eyewitness account of Johnson’s brave actions during the battle from the man Johnson saved, Pvt. Neadom Roberts; and a letter detailing and praising Johnson from his Regiment commander, Colonel William Hayward. However, despite these supporting documents, submitted more than a year ago, the case has yet to be decided.
“With all of the evidence we’ve collected and presented, it surprises me that this case hasn’t yielded the award that this great man so clearly deserved,” continued Schumer. “Henry Johnson fought bravely for this country, risking his life to ensure the safety of his fellow soldiers and his country. The supporting documents and testimonials prove that this man more than deserves the Medal of Honor, and I hope that launching this petition will bring this case the attention it needs to get moving.”
There are several specific forms of evidence required in order to present a Medal of Honor to a member of the U.S. military. One requirement is a chain-of-command endorsement, which is met by the statement from General John Pershing; it was written as a memo on May 20, 1918, from Pershing to officials in Washington, D.C. The memo provides a variety of updates of the warfront in France, and immediately highlights details related to what many historians now refer to as the “Battle of Henry Johnson.”
The memo reads:
“Reports in hand show notable instance of bravery and devotion shown by 2 soldiers of American colored regiment operating in French sector. Before day light on May 15 Private Henry Johnson and Private Roberts while on sentry duty at some distance from one another were attacked by German raiding party estimated at 20 men, who advanced in 2 groups attacking at once from flank and rear. Both men fought bravely in hand to hand encounters, one resorting to use of bolo knife after rifle jammed and further fighting with bayonet and butt became impossible. Evidence that at least one and probably second German was severely cut. Third known to have been shot. Attention drawn to fact that the 2 colored sentries first attacked continued fighting after receiving wounds, and despite of use of grenades by superior force, and should be given credit for preventing by their bravery the taking prisoner of our men. Three of our men wounded, of whom two by grenades but all are recovering, and wounds in two cases are slight.”
Senator Schumer has stated that this memo undoubtedly provides the “incontestable proof” necessary to show Henry Johnson’s worthiness of the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is awarded by the President to a member of the armed services who distinguishes him- or herself “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty.” To receive the medal, the action on the part of a soldier must be one of “personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life,” according to the criteria established by the armed services. The General Pershing document alone clearly warrants the reopening of Henry Johnson’s Medal of Honor case, but Schumer’s package does not stop there.
Amongst the numerous documents Schumer uncovered are two other notable pieces of evidence. The first is an eyewitness account of the “Battle of Henry Johnson” from then-Private Neadom Roberts, who also fought the German forces alongside then-Private Johnson during the battle. In the extensive statement, Roberts highlights the bravery and self-sacrifice that Henry Johnson exhibited, particularly crediting him with the final blow of the battle. An eyewitness account is required to receive the Medal of Honor. The other piece of newly uncovered evidence is a letter written by Colonel William Hayward, also detailing the event, which Schumer’s office discovered had been read into the Congressional Record on September 4, 1918. This discovery gave the letter a legitimacy that it previously lacked. Colonel Hayward was Henry Johnson’s commanding officer, and in his letter addressed to Johnson’s wife, he writes:
“Your husband, Pvt. Henry Johnson… has been at all times a good soldier… of fine morals and upright character. To these admirable traits he has lately added the most convincing proof of fine courage and splendid fighting ability. I regret to say that he is at the moment in a hospital, seriously, but not dangerously, wounded, the wounds having been received under such circumstances that everyone of us in the regiment would be pleased and proud to trade places with him.”
Colonel William Hayward goes on to describe the battle, confirming the details. This evidence further supports General Pershing’s account in his memo as well as the eyewitness statement of Neadom Roberts. These critical pieces of evidence, taken together with the numerous other sources uncovered by Schumer provide the incontestable proof necessary to show he is not only worthy, but also meets the standard of personal bravery “so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above from his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life.”
Henry Johnson was a native of Albany, served in World War I, and was an African-American who joined the all-black New York National Guard unit, the 369th Infantry division, based in Harlem. About 400,000 black soldiers served in the armed forces at that time. Half were sent overseas, many stationed in France. They were not allowed to serve with white soldiers nor were they allowed to fight with American combat units.
But the members of the 369th soon proved themselves. They became known as the Harlem Hellfighters. And that was not a name they took for themselves – they were so fierce and effective in battle that this was a name given to them by their enemies. No one personified the bravery of the 369th more than Henry Johnson. While on guard duty in the early morning hours of May 15, 1918, then-Private Johnson came under attack by a German raider party of two dozen. Despite severe injuries, sustaining an estimated 21 wounds, he fought off the Germans and rescued one of his buddies with only a jammed rifle (which he used as a club), a bolo knife, and his bare hands.
Johnson was promoted to Sergeant later in May 1918. He was immediately honored by the French with the highest military honor they could bestow upon this brave American who served alongside French patriots. Johnson’s exploits got newspaper coverage in America and throughout Europe. He was featured in Teddy Roosevelt, Jr.'s book, "Rank and File: True Stories of the Great War." The Army even used Johnson’s name and likeness to advertise for war bonds and recruit minorities into service.
But his own country, for which he fought selflessly, abandoned Henry Johnson in the years following his service. After the war, Johnson returned to upstate New York and even lobbied New York State for VA benefits. He would never benefit from his efforts. Johnson later died penniless on the streets of Albany, New York, in 1929. In 2002, his grave was found in Arlington National Cemetery, not in the paupers’ cemetery outside of Albany, where he was believed to have been buried.
Since the integration of the military in 1950, some African-American servicemen and women have been recognized for their gallant service, but efforts must continue in order to rectify errors of the past. It is never too late. Alarmingly neglected for many years, recognition of African-Americans troops prior to integration continues to this day, as the Henry Johnson case shows.
In 1996, Henry Johnson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. In 2003, at an official ceremony at the Pentagon, Henry Johnson was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second-highest award. Senator Schumer has long fought to honor the legacy of the brave New Yorker and patriot, Henry Johnson. Schumer will continue to work hard until he receives the Medal of Honor, the top award that he so greatly deserves. Schumer is hopeful that this brand new online petition will allow people across the country to register their support for Sgt. Henry Johnson.
A copy of Sen. Schumer petition appears below:
On May 15, 2011, the 93rd anniversary of the Battle of Henry Johnson, Senator Charles Schumer submitted to the Army a nearly 1300-page request for reconsideration to award Henry Johnson the Medal of Honor. Schumer’s submission provides incontestable proof of what happened, including new primary source evidence, analysis, information about the historical context and more.
Henry Johnson, an Albany resident, was an African American volunteer with the New York National Guard serving with a French unit, under French command due to segregation. While on guard duty in the dark early morning hours on May 15, 1918, then-Private Henry Johnson’s outpost, on the French side of the Western Front, came under attack by a German raider party of about twenty. Despite sustaining numerous gunshot wounds, he fought off 20+ Germans, rescued his fellow soldier from certain capture, and acquired a large cache of enemy weapons. He did all this with little training, a jammed rifle and a bolo knife. The German unit was well-trained, the raid was carefully planned and it was meant to capture prisoners. If not for Johnson’s bravery, with total disregard for his own life, his fellow soldier would have been captured, a cache of weapons and supplies would not have been acquired by the allies and valuable intelligence would have gone to the enemy. Even in the face of Senator Schumer’s discovery of compelling new primary source evidence that provides incontestable proof of Johnson’s bravery and worthiness of the Medal of Honor, the case remains pending.
Sgt. Johnson, who was permanently disabled after the fight, was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, one of the French military’s highest honors, for his bravery in battle during World War I. This French award was bestowed just days after the famous battle. Yet, he received no military decorations from his own country. It was not until 1996 that his own country would officially honor him. That year, Johnson was awarded the Purple Heart, followed by the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002.
In 2003, Senator Schumer helped secure the second-highest American military award for Johnson, the Distinguished Service Cross. Eight years later, on the 93rd anniversary of the battle on May 15, 2011, Schumer urged the Army to reopen the case for the Medal of Honor in light of never considered evidence his office discovered. Highlights from Schumer’s nearly 1300 page recommendation include a chain of command endorsement from General John Pershing, WWI US Commander of the U.S. Forces in Europe, an eyewitness account of Johnson’s brave actions during the battle from Pvt. Neadom Roberts, the soldier whose life Johnson saved, a letter from Johnson’s commanding officer, Colonel William Hayward, also detailing the event, and much more.
There are several specific forms of evidence required in order to present a Medal of Honor to a member of the U.S. military. One requirement is a chain-of-command endorsement, of which we have now found several, including Col Hayward’s letter to Johnson’s wife, Major Little’s glowing account, and, most important, General Pershing’s communiqué. Pershing’s memo dated May 20, 1918 to officials in Washington, D.C. highlights details related to what many historians now refer to as the “Battle of Henry Johnson.” Senator Schumer also uncovered yet another critical piece of evidence required to receive the Medal of Honor: an eyewitness account of the “Battle of Henry Johnson” from then-Private Neadom Roberts, who fought the German forces alongside then-Private Johnson during the battle, and who Johnson rescued from capture. In the extensive statement, Roberts highlights the bravery and self-sacrifice that Henry Johnson exhibited, particularly crediting him with the final blow of the battle.
We, the undersigned, urge all decision makers, including the Secretary of the Army, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and the President of the United States, to immediately approve the posthumous Medal of Honor for Sgt. Henry Johnson for his conspicuous gallantry, intrepidity at the risk of his life, and actions far above and beyond the call of duty in the May 1918 battle against German forces. We implore all decision makers to expeditiously review the aforementioned incontestable evidence that will show Henry Johnson’s unambiguous qualification for the United States of America’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.