Schumer Has Campaigned Relentlessly For Sgt. Henry Johnson, An African American WWI Hero, Who Was Denied Recognition Due To Racism and Segregation; Now, Johnson’s Name Is Officially On Louisiana Base Previously Named After A Confederate Soldier General
In 2020, Schumer Successfully Urged The Army To Rename Fort Polk In Honor Of Sgt. Henry Johnson – Just 5 Years Earlier, After Years of Schumer’s Advocacy, The White House Posthumously Awarded The Medal Of Honor To Johnson
Following his long advocacy and personal recommendation to the Department of Defense, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced that Fort Polk in Louisiana has officially been renamed Fort Johnson, in honor of African-American World War I hero and Albany resident Sergeant Henry Johnson. This change comes after Congress authorized the Naming Commission to provide new names for U.S. military bases and other Department of Defense installations originally named after Confederate leaders. Schumer has worked tirelessly to secure Sgt. Johnson the long overdue recognition that was denied to him due to racism and segregation, including getting the White House to posthumously award him the Medal of honor for his WW I heroics as a Harlem Hellfighter. Now, thanks to Schumer’s advocacy, Sgt. Johnson now has a military base named for his courageous service, a special honor held only by the finest in our nation. Yesterday’s renaming of now-Fort Johnson will ensure Sgt. Johnson’s legacy lives on and continues to inspire future generations.
“Sgt. Henry Johnson, Albany resident and Harlem Hellfighter, is a true American hero, who displayed the most profound battlefield bravery in World War I, yet for almost a century the nation for which he was willing to give his life shamefully failed to recognize his heroics. That’s why I’m so proud to say that Sgt. Johnson’s name officially took the place of a Confederate general when southern military base, Fort Polk, was renamed in his honor,” said Senator Schumer. “It took years of research from impassioned advocates and local historians, and, of course my staff, to allow Sgt. Johnson to receive our nation’s highest military award in the Medal of Honor. When the Naming Commission was established to look at renaming those bases previously named for Confederate soldiers, I knew right away that Henry Johnson was the perfect candidate for this honor. Now this culmination of work has paid off in a profound way and I am thrilled that we officially have Fort Johnson standing proud to inspire generations to come.”
Schumer has long led the fight to get Sgt. Henry Johnson the recognition he deserves for his bravery and heroism during WWI. Schumer submitted a nearly 1,300-page request to the military in support of Johnson’s receiving the Medal of Honor and launched an online petition to build public support. Schumer held a personal call with then-U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh, met with then Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright – who oversees decisions regarding Medals of Honor – and wrote a letter to former Secretary Hagel, all in an effort to secure the Medal of Honor for Sgt. Johnson. In concert with Sgt. Johnson’s activists, including the late John Howe, a Vietnam veteran, Schumer helped secure the second-highest American military honor for Johnson, the Distinguished Service Cross, in 2003. In 2014, Schumer’s staff discovered contemporaneous writings and accounts of Johnson’s acts by General John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front and Needham Roberts, Johnson’s foxhole partner who was wounded early in the battle. These key pieces of evidence, previously unknown, were the proof that the Awards Branch needed to recommend the Medal of Honor. Then, after Schumer added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2014 to waive the time restrictions on receiving the Medal of Honor, on June 2, 2015, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Sergeant Henry Johnson the Medal of Honor.
Most recently, Schumer launched on all-out push on the 105th anniversary of the “Battle of Henry Johnson” to honor Sgt. Johnson with a U.S. postage stamp.
Sergeant Henry Johnson, an African American 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. In May 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. Schumer said Sgt. Henry Johnson’s heroism will now continue to inspire soldiers of our present and our future, just as it did for soldiers of his past.