ALBANY, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — World War I hero Henry Johnson may finally be awarded the Medal of Honor after Sen. Charles Schumer got the Johnson provision included in the national defense bill Congress is expected to vote on in the coming days.
The House of Representatives could vote on the defense bill as soon as Wednesday and the Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week.
President Barack Obama’s signature would be the only thing needed to secure the honor for Johnson if the spending package is approved by the Senate and the House.
It would cap decades of work to secure for Johnson the nation’s highest military honor. To date, nearly 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded since the Civil War, including 621 posthumously.
Johnson, an Army sergeant whose middle name was Lincoln, died on July 5, 1929 at the Veterans Hospital in New Lenox, Ill. He was indigent and estranged from his family and was buried years later at Arlington National Cemetery.
Johnson, an African-American from Albany who overcame discrimination and died destitute, his battlefield valor long forgotten, has been the focus of a decades-long effort to have his service honored.
After a lengthy campaign waged by relatives, black veterans, an online petition and an aggressive push by Schumer, Army Secretary John McHugh earlier this year approved a 1,300-page Medal of Honor application submitted by Schumer on behalf of Johnson.
On May 15, 1918, Johnson, then a private, was serving as a sentry when he helped repel a 20-soldier German unit, despite being seriously wounded and armed only with a knife and a jammed rifle he swung as a club. Historians have taken to referring to it as the “Battle of Henry Johnson.”
Johnson previously received the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, one of the French military’s highest honors. In 2003, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest award.
Johnson was a member of the 369th Infantry Regiment, based in Harlem. The unit, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” was one of the only black combat units in World War I and it fought with distinction under French command in an era of racial segregation in the U.S. Army.
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