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Schumer Has Campaigned Relentlessly For Sgt. Henry Johnson, An African American WWI Hero, Who Was Denied Recognition Due To Racism and Segregation; Now Schumer Is Launching A New Push To Create A Postage Stamp In Honor Of This True American Hero

In 2015, After Years of Schumer’s Advocacy, The White House Posthumously Awarded The Medal Of Honor To Sgt. Henry Johnson – And In 2020, Schumer Successfully Urged The Army To Rename Fort Polk In Honor Of Johnson, Which Will Officially Take Place Next Month

Schumer: Honoring Henry Johnson – An American Hero & Albany Legend – With A Postage Stamp Would Preserve His Story And Bravery For Generations To Come

On the 105th anniversary of the “Battle of Henry Johnson,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today launched an all-out push to honor Sergeant Henry Johnson, African-American World War I hero and Albany resident, who was unjustly denied full recognition for his bravery and patriotism during his life due to racism and segregation, with a U.S. postage stamp.

In a personal letter to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, Schumer advocated on behalf of Sgt. Johnson’s impactful story and long-lasting legacy. Schumer has worked tirelessly to secure Henry Johnson the long overdue recognition that was denied to him due to racism and segregation, including getting the White House to posthumously award him the Medal of Honor for his WWI heroics as a Harlem Hellfighter, and most recently, securing the renaming of Fort Polk, currently named after a confederate soldier general, in honor of Johnson. Now, Schumer said he wants to create a postage stamp in honor of this extraordinary American hero to ensure his legacy lives on and continues to inspire future generations.

“Sgt. Henry Johnson, Albany resident and Harlem Hellfighter, is a true American hero, who displayed the most profound battlefield bravery in World War I, yet for almost a century the nation for which he was willing to give his life shamefully failed to recognize his heroics, just because he was a black man. Now, on the 105th anniversary of the ‘Battle of Henry Johnson,’ we have another incredible opportunity to preserve the story of this true American hero for generations to come by creating a Henry Johnson stamp,” said Senator Schumer. “The creation of a U.S. postage stamp to honor Sgt. Johnson is just one more important step in rectifying a century-old injustice to turn away from a sad chapter in American history and continue to give the recognition to Sgt. Johnson, and the countless other African Americans who courageously fought – and died – for a nation that failed to treat them with full equality before the law.”

Schumer continued, “I’ve fought for years to get Sgt. Johnson’s incredible legacy the recognition it deserves – not only getting the White House to posthumously award him the Medal of Honor, but also securing his name on a military base currently named after a confederate soldier general – and this postage stamp will be an indelible way to honor a man who was denied recognition for so long. Sgt. Johnson left a lasting mark on America in its time of need, and this acknowledgement would be a true testament to his sacrifice as we celebrate the anniversary of Sgt. Johnson’s battle heroics.”

Schumer explained that the U.S. Postal Service’s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), a body appointed by the Postmaster General, accepts suggestions and selects subjects for future stamp issues. New stamp subjects feature American or American-related subjects and honor “extraordinary and enduring contributions to American society, history, culture or environment”. Schumer said that Henry Johnson’s story embodies heroism and American history that for too long had not received the recognition it deserved, and that honoring his legacy with a postage stamp would help ensure his actions continue to live on to inspire the next generation. The senator said this is especially pertinent as we remember the 105th anniversary of Henry Johnson’s heroic actions. While on night sentry duty, May 15, 1918, Johnson received a surprise attack by a German raiding party. While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation, displaying great courage, Johnson held back the enemy force until they retreated.

Schumer has long led the fight to get Sgt. Henry Johnson the recognition he deserves for his bravery and heroism during WWI. Schumer submitted a nearly 1,300-page request to the military in support of Johnson’s receiving the Medal of Honor and launched an online petition to build public support. Schumer held a personal call with then-U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh, met with then Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright – who oversees decisions regarding Medals of Honor – and wrote a letter to former Secretary Hagel, all in an effort to secure the Medal of Honor for Sgt. Johnson. In concert with Sgt. Johnson’s 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. In 2014, Schumer’s staff discovered contemporaneous writings and accounts of Johnson’s acts by General John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front and Needham Roberts, Johnson’s foxhole partner who was wounded early in the battle. These key pieces of evidence, previously unknown, were the proof that the Awards Branch needed to recommend the Medal of Honor. Then, after Schumer added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2014 to waive the time restrictions on receiving the Medal of Honor, on June 2, 2015, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Sergeant Henry Johnson the Medal of Honor. Most recently, Schumer urged the Defense Department Naming Commission to consider Henry Johnson as they sought to rename bases that had been previously named for Confederates in 2020. Next month, Fort Polk in Louisiana will be renamed in honor of Sgt. Henry Johnson.

Sergeant Henry Johnson, an African American who was part of the “Harlem Hellfighters” that served under French Command due to segregation, was not properly recognized for gallantry during his lifetime. During World War I, then-private Henry Johnson fought with the French on the Western Front because of discriminatory laws in the United States. In May 1918, Johnson came under attack by a German raider party of approximately 20 men. Despite sustaining numerous gunshot wounds, Johnson fought off an entire German advance, rescued his fellow soldier from certain capture, and acquired a large cache of enemy weapons. Schumer said that Johnson accomplished these actions with little training, a jammed rifle, and a bolo knife against an overwhelming German unit that was well trained during a raid that was carefully planned and meant to capture prisoners. Schumer said that, if not for Johnson’s bravery, with total disregard for his own life, his fellow soldiers 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. Johnson, who was permanently disabled after the fight, was issued a communique from General Pershing commending his service, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, one of the highest military honors of France, for his bravery in battle. Schumer said Sgt. Henry Johnson’s heroism will now continue to inspire soldiers of our present and our future, just as it did for soldiers of his past.

A copy of Schumer’s letter of support to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee for Sgt. Henry Johnson appears below:

Dear Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee,

I write to you today, on the 105th anniversary of the “Battle of Henry Johnson”, to recommend that your Committee consider Sgt. Henry Johnson to be honored with a stamp. Sgt. Johnson, an Albany, New York native, World War I veteran, and Harlem Hellfighter, remains an example of bravery and patriotism today.

Johnson was an African American who joined the all-Black New York National Guard unit, the 369th Infantry division, based in Harlem in June, 1917. About 400,000 Black soldiers served in the armed forces at that time and half were sent overseas, many stationed in France. They were not allowed to serve with white soldiers nor to fight under our flag with American combat units.

The official citation for his Medal of Honor reads: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Private Henry Johnson (ASN: 1316046), United States Army. Private Henry Johnson distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Forces, on May 15, 1918, during combat operations against the enemy on the front lines of the Western Front in France. In the early morning hours, Private Johnson and another soldier were on sentry duty at a forward outpost when they received a surprise attack from the German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers. While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Private Johnson mounted a brave retaliation, resulting in several enemy casualties. When his fellow soldier was badly wounded and being carried away by the enemy, Private Johnson exposed himself to great danger by advancing from his position to engage the two enemy captors in hand-to-hand combat. Wielding only a knife and gravely wounded himself, Private Johnson continued fighting, defeating the two captors and rescuing the wounded soldier. Displaying great courage, he continued to hold back the larger enemy force until the defeated enemy retreated, leaving behind a large cache of weapons and equipment and providing valuable intelligence. Without Private Johnson's quick actions and continued fighting, even in the face of almost certain death, the enemy might have succeeded in capturing prisoners in the outpost and abandoning valuable intelligence. Private Johnson's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, and the United States Army.”

Johnson was promoted to Sergeant for his actions. He became one of the first Americans of any color, in any conflict, to receive the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, France's highest award for valor. His exploits received newspaper coverage in America and throughout Europe and he was featured in Teddy Roosevelt Jr.'s book, "Rank and File: True Stories of the Great War." The Army also used Johnson’s name and likeness to advertise for war bonds and recruit in communities of color.  Despite this, however, it took roughly 80 years for the United States to officially recognize his acts.   After an extensive grassroots effort, Sgt. Johnson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and my office was instrumental in securing the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002.   In 2014, my Senate staff uncovered contemporaneous, first person, eye-witness accounts of Johnson’s acts from his foxhole mate, Needham Roberts, and other members of his company, as well as a communique from General John Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in France, to his Chief of Staff.  The Pershing communique constitutes a chain of command endorsement for the recognition of Henry Johnson, and corroborates details of the battle.   On the strength of this new evidence, on June 2, 2015, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Sgt. Johnson the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest honor, for his bravery, service, and sacrifice for his country.

After the war, Henry Johnson returned to Albany, New York where worked as a porter for the New York Central Railroad.  Johnson died in 1929, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In 2020, I urged the Defense Department Naming Commission to consider Henry Johnson as they sought to rename bases that had been previously named for Confederates.  I am proud that next month, Fort Polk in Louisiana will be renamed in honor of Sgt. Henry Johnson.

As we celebrate the 105th anniversary of Sgt. Johnson’s battle heroics, I urge the Committee to consider creating a stamp in honor of this American hero.

Thank you for your consideration.