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Schumer Has Long Fought To Secure A Medal of Honor for African American WWI Hero & Albany Resident Henry Johnson, Wrongfully Denied Our Nation’s Highest Military Honor Because of Segregation – After Three Years Of Vetting By Army, Johnson’s Medal of Honor Request Now At Highest Level of Dept. of Defense

Schumer Met With Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, Jessica Wright, Who Oversees Medal of Honor Decisions – Senator Voiced Strong Support For Sgt. Johnson & Urged Her To Send The Request To The White House For Final Approval

Schumer: Henry Johnson is an American Hero Who Displayed Mind-Boggling Bravery in Battle for Our Nation & We Should Not Wait Another Day to Honor Him

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer met with Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright, who oversees decisions regarding Medals of Honor, and urged her to recommend that late World War I hero and Albany resident Sgt. Henry Johnson receive a Medal of Honor, and pushed her to expedite the approval process. During the meeting, Wright committed to doing everything in her power to move the approval process along as quickly as possible. Schumer’s meeting with Wright comes after U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh approved Schumer’s request to grant Johnson a Medal of Honor back in May. With McHugh’s sign-off, and Wright’s recommendation, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel would be expected to recommend the Medal of Honor request be approved. Schumer explained that the only step remaining after Hagel is approval by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President.

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 Secretary McHugh and has also written a letter to Secretary Hagel urging him to sign-off.

“The case is crystal clear: Sgt. Henry Johnson is an American hero, who displayed the most profound battlefield bravery, and he deserves the Medal of Honor he was denied because of segregation,” said Schumer. “Sgt. Johnson’s family has waited long enough for the recognition Johnson should have received almost a century ago, and I made it clear to Under Secretary Wright that the Department of Defense should not force them to wait too much longer. I am pleased that Under Secretary Wright is as committed as I am to moving this along as quickly as possible. I am passionate about righting this terrible wrong, and I will not stop pushing for Sgt. Johnson to get the recognition he deserves until this is completely over the finish line.”

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. And last October, 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.

While on duty around 12AM 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.

“We should never forget that Private Henry Johnson put his life on the line for America when our nation did not treat him with the equality and dignity that comes with full citizenship rights. Segregation was the reason he did not receive our nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, and that injustice needs to be rectified with all due speed,” said Schumer.

Years later, 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. 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.

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.”

Senator Schumer’s original letter to Defense Secretary Hagel is included below:

Dear Secretary Hagel,

I write to urge that you recommend approval to award Sergeant Henry Johnson the posthumous Medal of Honor for his heroic efforts in World War 1.  It is my understanding that Secretary of the Army John McHugh has submitted his recommendation for approval for comment by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and a recommendation for approval from the Secretary of Defense to the President of the United States. Though Henry Johnson, an African American who was part of the “Harlem Hellfighters” that served under French Command due to segregation, was not recognized for gallantry during his lifetime, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Cross Award in 2003. In light of an abundant amount of additional evidence members of my staff uncovered, I believe that the U.S. Department of Defense should take further action to honor Sergeant Johnson. Today marks the 96th anniversary of the Battle of Henry Johnson and there would be no better way to honor this true American hero than by awarding him America’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.

As you may know, Henry Johnson, an Albany resident, was an African American volunteer with the New York National Guard serving 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 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. 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 2003.

Upon submitting new evidence and materials my staff uncovered that had previously not been considered, the Army decided to reopen the case for the Medal of Honor. These materials included a communique from General John Pershing detailing the battle and noting that Sergeant Johnson should be recognized for his bravery and an eyewitness account from Colonel William Hayward, Sergeant Johnson’s commanding officer. 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 there are now several, including Col Hayward’s letter to Johnson’s wife, Major Little’s glowing account, and, most importantly, 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.” 

On this 96th anniversary of the Battle of Henry Johnson, I believe there is no better date to appropriately acknowledge Sergeant Henry Johnson for his bravery and distinguished service to our country.  I urge you to 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. There is incontestable evidence that demonstrates Henry Johnson’s unambiguous qualification for the United States of America’s highest military honor. Thank you for your attention to this matter, should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.


Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator