Defense bill could lead to Medal of Honor for Albany hero

ALBANY, N.Y. — A defense spending bill passed the Senate Friday night, and it could end in recognition of a local Albany hero.

A portion of the bill would allow Albany’s World War One hero, Sergeant Henry Johnson, to get his long awaited Medal of Honor.

The bill passed the House last week, and faced little resistance in the Senate, before heading to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

Johnson’s legend states he nearly single-handedly took on a German regiment to save an injured comrade.

Once the President signs the bill into law, Senator Charles Schumer will then be able to consider the actual Medal of Honor request.

Sgt. Johnson, an African-American, was denied the medal due to segregation, but many believe he deserved it 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.

Johnson, 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.

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