Lewis Diuguid

Long overdue Medal of Honor likely to go to World War I sergeant with Kansas City ties

Herman Johnson of Kansas City would have loved to see his dad, Sgt. Henry Johnson, finally get the Medal of Honor for his heroics during World War I.
Herman Johnson of Kansas City would have loved to see his dad, Sgt. Henry Johnson, finally get the Medal of Honor for his heroics during World War I. The Kansas City Star

Herman Johnson would have loved to see his dad, Sgt. Henry Johnson, finally get the Medal of Honor he deserves.

The annual defense authorization bill passed Friday and sent to President Barack Obama included a waiver of the time restriction on Henry Johnson getting the award. Obama is expected to sign the bill, and then consider honoring the sergeant, who died in 1929.

Herman Johnson, a Kansas City businessman, former Missouri legislator and former president of the Kansas City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had in 2003 accepted the Distinguished Service Cross for his father at ceremonies at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City and backed those who pushed for the nation’s top military honor for his father.

But Herman Johnson died in 2004. He would have loved to be in Washington to receive the Medal of Honor on behalf of Henry Johnson, whose heroics included the rescue of a comrade in the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment while repelling a German attack in France in 1918. Severely wounded himself, Johnson used his knife and rifle to kill or wound several of the invading German soldiers.

Henry Johnson received the French Croix de Guerre. When he returned to the States, Harlem held a parade for him and the governor and mayor met his train on his arrival in Albany, N.Y. But because he was black, the U.S. military ignored his heroism. He died at age 32 a destitute alcoholic partly because of his wartime injuries.

Efforts to get the Medal of Honor for him began in the 1970s and gained steam when New York Sen. Charles Schumer’s staff in 2011 found a U.S. Army dispatch from May 1918, describing the “notable instance of bravery and devotion” during the attack.

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