ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A local army national guardsman will accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of an Albany resident who courageously fought in World War I.
The Battle of Henry Johnson made one of Albany’s own a World War I hero in one night. But the battle to award Johnson the nation’s highest military honor took decades.
On June 2, those efforts will come to fruition at the White House when Johnson will posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor. Johnson died in 1929 with no direct descendants. So in a rare instance, the honor of receiving the award was bestowed to a military member.
“Just kind of ecstatic right now,” New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson said.
Like Johnson, who grew up in North Carolina before moving to Albany as a teenager, Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson saw a brighter future in the army rather than in the cotton fields.
“A sense of belonging to a unit to prove himself,” he said. “Pretty much I feel the same with me. He’s from the South and just wanted to be part of something bigger.”
Wilson said Johnson paved the way for many Black soldiers.
“It’s more of a challenge to prove themselves,” he said. “Back then it was one of the things where they lacked the skill or knowledge to perform in combat. You had the extra pressure to prove yourself, and that’s what he did.”
And while African American soldiers have proven themselves on and off the battlefield, Wilson will experience something he never could have believed: accepting the nation’s highest award for a Black soldier from an African American Commander-in-Chief.
“Never thought that would happen,” he said. “Never dreamed it would happen and just glad about it.”
Wilson has come to see Johnson as a hero for fighting off more than a dozen German troops to save a fellow soldier. He said he will do his best at next week’s White House ceremony to honor Johnson not only for his service to the country but for the way the former railroad porter lived.
“One thing I do remember about him, the big smile he had in parades and when he received his awards, and hopefully, I’m going to portray that same smile in receiving this award on his behalf,” he said.
The only person who may be more excited to be at the White House ceremony will be Wilson’s wife, Teresa, who will be there as well.
Wilson said she deserves it for putting up with his 39 years in the military.