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In May, Schumer Successfully Secured Medal Of Honor For African American WWI Hero, Harlem Hellfighter & Albany Resident, Sgt. Henry Johnson, Who Was Denied Our Nation’s Highest Military Honor Due To Racism And Segregation 

Now, Schumer Is Urging The NY National Guard, Where Residents & Visitors Could See In Person This Hometown Hero’s Long-Due Honor 

Schumer: Bring Sgt. Henry Johnson’s Medal Of Honor Home For Display in Albany

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today asked the New York National Guard to bring Sergeant Henry Johnson’s Medal of Honor to his hometown of Albany for display. In May, Schumer announced that the White House would posthumously award the Medal of Honor to African-American World War I hero and Albany resident, Sgt. Johnson. In June, Schumer and Sgt. Johnson’s infantry regiment, the 369th “Harlem Hellfighters” Division, attended the award ceremony at the White House, where President Obama presented this long-awaited recognition to make right this century-old wrong. Schumer said now that the medal has been awarded, it would be an honor for the City of Albany, Sgt. Johnson’s former home, to display the award temporarily in Albany City Hall for residents and visitors to finally see it up close and in person.

“Sgt. Henry Johnson, an Albany resident, was a true American hero who displayed the most profound battlefield bravery in World War I – so it’s only fitting that the long-awaited Medal of Honor he finally received be brought to Albany, his former home, for a visit. After more than a decade of work, it was an honor to see this century-old injustice made right, and it would be the City of Albany’s honor to finally be able to say ‘Thank-you’ in person and see this award up close,” said Schumer. “We have had dozens of Capital Region citizens call and ask if the medal could visit Henry Johnson’s hometown. So I am urging the NY National Guard to allow Sgt. Johnson’s medal to make a visit to Albany, so residents and visitors alike will finally be able to witness our country’s highest military honor that was bestowed upon Sgt. Henry Johnson.”

Schumer worked tirelessly since 1999 to secure this recognition for Sgt. Johnson. Due to racism and segregation, Sgt. Johnson was denied the Medal of Honor for his WW I heroics, as his unit, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, was forced to serve under French command due to segregation. Even though Sgt. Johnson received France’s highest military honor for his exploits, he was not so honored by his own nation, until this year.

Schumer’s years of advocacy took new life in 2011 when the Senator 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 of that year, 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. Later that year, Schumer launched an online petition in support of Henry Johnson’s heroics during World War I, while uncovering additional evidence in support of Johnson’s candidacy for the medal. Throughout the course of 2014, Schumer placed multiple calls to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army urging them to expedite their consideration of the Medal of Honor request, and worked to pass legislation in the Senate and House with Paul Tonko (D-NY) waiving the time restriction on receiving the honor and making Sgt. Johnson eligible. 

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.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the NY National Guard appears below:

Dear Gen. Murphy,

I was so proud to join you  and so many others last month  at the White House to witness Sgt. Maj. Louis E. Wilson of the New York Army National Guard accept Henry Johnson’s Medal of Honor from the President Barack Obama. This historic event was the culmination of a decades-long effort by numerous New Yorkers, and I consider it one of the highlights of my senatorial career.   

I write today to ask that you facilitate bringing this great honor to Albany City Hall for a temporary visit.  As you know, Henry Johnson lived in Albany, New York, where he has been feted as a hero for many years now.  The city named a major thoroughfare, that runs through his old neighborhood of Arbor Hill, Henry Johnson Boulevard, and there are statues and a school named for him, as well.   

I am aware that the New York National Guard is currently working with the Army Human Resources Command to facilitate the final turnover of Sgt. Johnson’s Medal of Honor to the NYNG.  I am requesting, that once the application is approved, the Medal of Honor is temporarily displayed in Johnson’s hometown of Albany, NY.

Throughout our long effort to secure this honor, the City of Albany, its elected officials, veterans community and its residents have provided the core support, frequently attending rallies and signing petitions.  When we received the great news in May that President Obama would award the Medal of Honor, our office began receiving calls asking if the medal would be displayed in Johnson’s hometown.  Albany City Hall is an excellent venue for a temporary display of Sgt. Johnson’s Medal of Honor, and already has a display case as well as a police security detail in the lobby. I know that Mayor Kathy Sheehan shares my enthusiasm for this venture.

Again, General, thank you and the New York National Guard for all that you have done to honor Sgt. Henry Johnson, and for all that you do for our great state and nation on a daily basis.  I look forward to working with you on very important effort to allow Albanians to see in person this great honor for their hometown hero.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator