May Their Courage Be Remembered
And Their Stories Inspire Us
Sgt. Henry Johnson
(Photo sourced from: https://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/johnson/. Public domain.)
Born in the South, he traveled to the North on the chance that he could create a new life there. Taking any odd jobs that he could find, when the chance to enlist came up, he didn’t hesitate.
But there was one problem - the color of his skin. It’s hard to imagine for most of us now, but people of color were not allowed to associate with whites. Even in the military. They were sent to labor battalions and kept out of combat.
Despite the separation, prejudice and hatred that he lived through on a daily basis, Henry chose to go fight to protect the freedom of a country that treated him as less than the average human.
He joined the all black 369th regiment known as the Harlem Hell fighters and shipped out to France.
Imagine how excited he may have felt! A young black man who was out to see the world on someone else’s dime and perhaps even become a war hero. Either way, there was excitement ahead for Henry and the Hell fighters.
The 369th lived up to their name and fought their way across France.
One night on sentry duty, Henry and another private, Needham Roberts were attacked in a surprise ambush. They fought off at least 12 soldiers, protected the prisoners and their company. Henry received over 21 wounds but that didn’t stop him from stepping into dangerous positions whenever duty called.
The bravery he showed by risking his life countless times, made him one of the first American of any color to receive the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme medal - France’s highest honor.
The US government did not award medals for his bravery as France did when he returned home. He did get some fame through parades and Theodore Roosevelt included him in his book.
The poet, Langston Hughes wrote a letter searching for information on Henry after his death in 1929 at 32 years old. Records show that it was due to a heart problem.
So much about this hero has been misinterpreted and lost to history. The one thing that is clear? He was an incredible soldier who gave all he could for his country and his fellow men.
President Barack Obama awarded Sgt. Henry Johnson with the Medal of Honor in 2002 and Henry also received a posthumous Purple Heart in 1996.
He has no living relatives and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
For more information about Henry, you can check out our sources!
A Letter From Langston Hughes Regarding Henry Johnson
Medal of Honor: Sgt. Henry Johnson
President Obama Awards Medal of Honor to Henry Johnson
Medal of Honor Recipients Story Finally Comes to Light