Sergeant Henry Johnson The Governor's Reception Celebrating Black History 1999
Preparedby John Howein cooperation with,Dr. Joseph Bowman, Jr. Center for Urban Youth and TechnologyThe University at Albany, SUNY
Henry Johnson America in the early part of the twentieth century was an economy that was in transition from an agricultural driven to one based on the ability of the infrastructure to support a large manufacturing base. Johnson worked at the Albany Union Station on Broadway, this was the gateway to the capital of the State of New York. The building still stands today as the headquarters of Fleet Bank in Albany.
Establishing a Negro Regiment • The New York State Legislature passed a bill in 1913 authorizing the establishment of a “Regiment of Negro Infantry.” This regiment known as the New York Fifteenth Infantry, was to be commanded by Colonel William Hayward, a veteran of the Spanish American War and New York's Public Safety Commissioner.
Henry Johnson • Henry Johnson enlisted on June 5, 1917 at the Marcy Ave. Armory in Brooklyn. The regiment was sent to the Carolina’s to train for war. • When the regiment arrived in Europe they were immediately pressed in to service as a labor unit. They unloaded ships and dug latrines. The men of the 369th were subjected to the law of segregation that were enforced in the continental United States while they served in Europe.
Labor or Fight • Unable to fight with the American Expeditionary Forces, Colonel Heyward negotiated an agreement to assign the “Black Rattlers” to the operational control of the French Army. It was under the French that the regiment learned of their federal designation as the 369th US Infantry.
Henry Johnson, the 369th and the French Forces • The men of the 369th were issued French uniforms, weapons, rations and were trained in French tactics. They learned enough French to take orders and were assigned a French comrade to show them the "ropes."
The 369th regimental band“Hell Fighters Band” • The Hell Fighters band under the command of 1Lt. James Reese Europe was known throughout the European theater and is credited with introducing the "Great American Art Form of Jazz" to the world.
On the night of May 14, 1918, The Germans sent a raiding party forward to capture some of these newly arrived troops that the Americans had thrown into the line. The Germans thought it would be an easy task, they were sadly mistaken. • Private Henry Johnson and Private Needham Roberts from Newark, New Jersey both assigned to Company C. 369th US Infantry, were on guard duty at a forward outpost in the Argonne Forest.
Henry Johnson and the German Attack • According to the account of Major ( later Lieutenant Colonel) Arthur Little, Regimental Adjutant and Johnson's Battalion Commander, in his book, From Harlem to the Rhine, the German patrol numbered at least twenty-four to thirty.
Henry Johnson and the German Attack • Roberts, badly wounded was seized by the Germans and carried off as a prisoner. • Johnson himself severely wounded regained his momentum and chased after the Germans in an effort to save his comrade. He used his rifle until it jammed, turned it into a club, threw hand grenades, and then drew his bolo knife.
In a harrowing display of valor, Johnson broke up the German attack, drove them back, rescued his buddy and cared for him until they were relieved that morning. Johnson was wounded twenty one times.
Henry Johnson and the French Award • The French government awarded Johnson the French Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, that country's highest award for valor. Johnson was the first American of any background to be so honored.
Henry Johnson and his wife • Johnson's wife was feted and his unselfish valorous devotion to his comrade lauded by the people of the City of Albany. • The Fort Orange Club hosted a tea for Mrs. Edna Johnson, at its prestigious location in downtown Albany.
Henry Johnson Returns to the United States • Johnson returned to a hero's welcome. In New York City the regiment marched up Fifth Ave. Home to Harlem, keeping in step to the beat of the Hell - Fighters Band while Henry Johnson rode in an open car.
The regiments return to Harlem was a social and cultural event for the community. The entire population turned out and took it upon themselves to open the doors of their homes and establishments that offered food and refreshment.
Johnson Returns to Albany • Johnson returned to Albany where he was revered and was a living hero. He tried to go back to his job at the Albany Union Station but was not able to do the work. • Twenty- one wounds, exposed to gas, took its toll. It is rumored that Johnson self medicated himself with alcohol and after a number of years he passed away.
Johnson never received any benefits from the government. • Johnson never lived to see any official acknowledgment for his valor and dedication to his comrade Needham Roberts. • A 1976 US Bicentennial poster, printed by the US Government Printing Office stated, " Johnson left a trail of destruction a half mile long.”
The 369th Veterans' Association, Inc., Albany District, has dedicated a monument in Washington Park and the City of Albany has renamed Northern Boulevard Henry Johnson Boulevard in honor of this local Hero. • In 1995 a bronze bust by the renowned artist Vincent J. Forte was mounted on top of the granite monument.
Johnson’s Purple Heart • In June of 1997, President Clinton directed the award of the Purple Heart Medal for the wounds received during that fateful night in 1918.
369th Veterans’Association • For over twenty years the members of the 369th Veterans' Association, Inc. Has told the story and proclaimed the need for the United States to honor the deeds that have endeared the people of color in this country about the need for keeping its promise.
Status of the Medal of Honor for Henry Johnson • In 1998 after a protracted struggle to exempt Sergeant Johnson from the statute of limitations on filing for an award, the New York National Guard, filed a recommendation for the Medal of Honor.
The Department of the Army has reviewed the facts surrounding this forgotten fact of American History and has finally accepted the recommendation for the award of the Medal of Honor.
On January 15, 1999, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr 's 70th Birthday, the Senior Military Awards Board was convened in Washington. On their agenda is to determine if Johnson will be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Special Thanks to: • Christian Mariano: Technical Assistant. • 369th Veterans' Association, Inc • NYS Div. Of Military and Naval Affairs • NYS Div. Of Veterans Affairs • Dr. William Powell • Maj. Gen. John J. Fenimore, V T.A.G • CSM Donald Brawley, Jr. NYARNG All Rights Reserved ‘99