The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 14, 2015
President Obama to Award the Medal of Honor to Two Heroes of World War I
WASHINGTON, DC – On June 2, 2015, President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Army Sergeant William Shemin and to Army Private Henry Johnson for conspicuous gallantry during World War I.
Sergeant William Shemin will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces. Sergeant Shemin distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of the Vesle River, Bazoches, France, on August 7-9, 1918.
Sergeant Shemin entered the Army on October 2, 1917. He was assigned as a rifleman to Company G, 47th Infantry Regiment, which moved from Syracuse, New York to Camp Greene, North Carolina, joining the 4th Infantry Division. The Division arrived in France in May, 1918.
While serving as a rifleman from August 7-9, 1918, Sergeant Shemin left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded. After officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire, until he was wounded, August 9.
Ms. Elsie Shemin-Roth of Webster Grove, Missouri, will join the President at the White House to accept the Medal of Honor on her father’s behalf.
|Private Henry Johnson|
Private Henry Johnson will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, American Expeditionary Forces. Then-Private Johnson distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of the Tourbe and Aisne Rivers, northwest of Saint Menehoul, France, on May 15, 1918.
Private Johnson entered the Army on June 5, 1917. He was assigned to Company C, 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, an all-black National Guard unit that would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment. The Regiment was ordered into battle in 1918, and Private Johnson and his unit were brigaded with a French Army colonial unit in front-line combat.
While on night sentry duty on May 15, 1918, Private Johnson and a fellow Soldier received a surprise attack by a German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers. While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation resulting in several enemy casualties. When his fellow soldier was badly wounded, Private Johnson prevented him from being taken prisoner by German forces. Private Johnson exposed himself to grave danger by advancing from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Displaying great courage, Private Johnson held back the enemy force until they retreated.
Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson, New York National Guard, will join the President at the White House to accept the Medal of Honor on Private Johnson’s behalf.
Statement by Senator Charles Schumer (DNY) on Medal of Honor award to Sgt. Henry Johnson hero of World War 1
|Senator Charles Schumer|
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that the White House will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to African-American World War I hero and Albany resident, Sergeant Henry Johnson, on June 2, 2015. Schumer has 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 sue to segregation. Even though Sgt. Johnson received France’s highest military honor for his exploits, he was not so honored by his own nation.
“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 the nation for which he was willing to give his life shamefully failed to recognize his heroics, just because he was a black man. This century-old injustice finally made right will be a profound gesture that will rectify a sad chapter in American history. And our nation will finally say “Thank-you’ to Sergeant Johnson, and the countless other African Americans who put their lives on the line for a nation that failed to treat them with full equality before the law.”
Schumer continued, “It took years of exhaustive research to prove his claim, impassioned advocacy by local historians and by his relations, and legislation passed through both houses of Congress to waive the statute of limitations on his award to get this done, but the effort has finally paid off. It will be one of my proudest accomplishments as Senator to see our country’s highest military honor bestowed upon Henry Johnson.”
Schumer said so many people helped champion this over the years, from John Howe and Tara Johnson, to Congressman Mike McNulty, Congressman Paul Tonko, Congressman Joe Dioguardi, Assemblyman Jack McEneny, Mayors Kathy Sheehan and Jerry Jennings and County Executives Dan McCoy and Mike Breslin, and many more.
Seeing Johnson’s regiment accept the Medal of Honor on his behalf – and knowing that a century-long injustice has finally been righted – will be one of my proudest accomplishments as a Senator,” said Schumer. “I am truly honored to have been able to work on this, and am overjoyed that President Barack Obama and the Department of Defense and Secretary of the Army McHugh recognizes the indelible mark Sgt. Johnson left on America in its time of need. This recognition is a true testament to his sacrifice – and all that is best about our country.”
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) to make Sgt. Johnson 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.
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 new 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 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 unveiling of the national online petition additional evidence, all of which had been discovered by Schumer and his office in the previous two years. However, Despite these discoveries, the case remained pending. In 2012, Schumer also appeared in an episode of PBS’ History Detectives that featured a painting depicting the Battle of Henry Johnson
· 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, passed the Senate unanimously.
· In November 2014, Schumer took an additional approach to secure the Medal of Honor for Sgt. Johnson. Schumer added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to waive the time restrictions on receiving the Medal of Honor and make this recognition for Sgt. Johnson a reality.