Schumer Has Campaigned Relentlessly To Secure Medal of Honor for African American WWI Hero & Albany Resident Sgt. Henry Johnson, Who Was Denied Our Nation’s Highest Military Honor Due To Segregation

Schumer: President’s Final Signature Would Put Us At The Precipice of Righting Century-Old Wrong

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that the provision he authored, which would make late World War I hero and Albany resident, Sergeant Henry Johnson, eligible to receive the Medal of Honor has passed both the House and the Senate. Schumer worked with Rep. Paul Tonko and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to include this provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that was unveiled earlier this week. Now that the bill has passed both chambers of Congress, this provision will head to the President’s desk. Schumer is urging the President quickly provide final signature for this bill Once the president signs this bill into law, he will then be able to consider the actual Medal of Honor request.

Schumer has led the fight to get Sgt. Henry Johnson, an African-American WWI hero, the Medal of Honor he has long been denied due to segregation, but deserves for his bravery and heroism during WWI. Schumer explained that, under current law, a Medal of Honor must be awarded within five years of when the heroic act being recognized took place. Therefore, before the President could consider the Medal of Honor application Schumer submitted on Johnson’s behalf, Congress had to pass legislation specifically allowing Sgt. Johnson’s case to be considered. In his efforts to try to make this a reality, Schumer first introduced and passed a bill in the Senate that would waive the timing restriction and allow Johnson’s application to be considered by the President, and Tonko introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives. To supplement this effort, just last month, Schumer launched an additional strategy to get this provision for Sgt. Johnson signed into law. In addition to trying to pass a stand-alone bill through both houses of Congress, Schumer successfully pushed for an amendment to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which also waives the timing restrictions on the Medal of Honor and enables the President to consider the Medal of Honor request.

“Sgt. Henry Johnson is a true American hero, who displayed the most profound battlefield bravery, and he deserves the Medal of Honor he was denied because of segregation. Johnson’s family has waited long enough for the recognition Johnson should have received almost a century ago. That is why I am pleased to announce today that we have finally passed a provision in Congress that will enable the President to consider this Medal of Honor request. With the passage of this bill, and eventually the President’s signature, we are now one step away from the finish line,” said Schumer. “The next step is for the President to consider the Medal of Honor request and, I hope and pray, to approve it. I will not stop pushing until this is a reality. Sgt. Henry Johnson left an indelible mark on America in its time of need, and this recognition would be a true testament to his sacrifice – and all that is best about our country.”

“I am proud that the United States Senate brought Sergeant Henry Johnson one step closer to the Medal of Honor that he deserves,” said Senator Wyden.  “I will continue working with Senator Schumer and others until this true American hero receives the recognition he has earned.”   

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. On May 14, 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 has 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 U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh, met with Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright – who oversees decisions regarding Medals of Honor – and wrote a letter to 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. Schumer has consistently expressed his support for Sgt. Johnson to receive the Medal of Honor:

·         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 Sgt. Johnson. In May 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.

·         In October 2011, Schumer launched an online petition in support of Henry Johnson’s heroics during World War I, while Schumer uncovered additional evidence in support of Johnson’s candidacy for the Medal.

·         In October 2012 in Albany, 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. In 2012, Schumer also 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.

·         In March 2013, ahead of the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Henry Johnson, Schumer publicly called on Secretary McHugh to approve his request to honor Johnson with a Medal of Honor. Schumer also made multiple phone calls to McHugh on this subject over the course of 2013 and 2014.

·         In May 2014, following Secretary McHugh’s recommendation that Sgt. Johnson receive the Medal of Honor, Schumer wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging him to do the same. He also met with Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright, who oversees decisions regarding Medals of Honor, and urged her to consider Johnson’s application.

·         In August 2014, after Schumer had urged the Department of Defense for years to recommend a Medal of Honor for Johnson, Defense Secretary Hagel officially made the recommendation.

·         In September 2014, Schumer announced that his legislation to allow the President to be able to consider the Medal of Honor application for the late World War I hero and Albany resident, Sergeant. Henry Johnson, has passed the Senate unanimously.

·         In November 2014, Schumer introduced his additional approach in his ongoing efforts to secure the Medal of Honor Sgt. Johnson, which consisted of pushing to add an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Adding such an amendment would also waive the timing restrictions on the Medal of Honor and make this recognition for Sgt. Johnson a reality. Schumer explained that this is just one other way to try to get the job done in addition to his stand-alone bill that is awaiting House passage.


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