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Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks On The Renaming Of Fort Polk To Honor New Yorker And WWI Hero Sgt. Henry Johnson

Washington, D.C. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor highlighting the newly renamed Fort Johnson, which honors African American WWI Hero Sgt. Henry Johnson. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

One of the greatest things of our country is the rich legacy of Americans who dedicated their lives to serving their fellow citizens, especially on the battlefield. But for every hero whose memory lives on, countless others have become heroes in anonymity.

That is why today, I am happy to celebrate the legacy of Sgt. Henry Johnson – World War I Veteran, Albany resident, Harlem Hellfighter.

Yesterday, Fort Polk in Louisiana was officially renamed in Sgt. Johnson’s honor, after many years of advocacy, research, and a fierce push from my office to make sure this New Yorker got the recognition he’s long deserved.

Over a century ago, Sgt. Johnson enlisted to fight with the allies in World War I. But because of segregation, he served under French command. He was wounded in a battle during a German advance. He saved the lives of his fellow soldiers but was permanently disabled – and Sgt. Johnson never received the recognition he deserved in life because of the color of his skin.

I was honored to lead the push in Congress to have the White House posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Johnson. I wrote to former Secretary Hegel, got on the phone with Army Secretary McHugh, and met with senior Pentagon officials.

And I made a push in 2014 to waive the time restrictions to receive the Medal of Honor, and my staff, amazingly, went deep, deep, deep in the Pentagon archives and discovered previously unknown writings of Sgt. Johnson’s acts on the battlefield, by his own foxhole partner. Even General Pershing commented on his bravery, we found, because you needed contemporaneous views of how great Sgt. Johnson was to get the Medal of Honor. And then, much to the delight and happiness of veterans groups in the Capital Region, Albany, in New York, and around New York and the country, President Obama awarded Sgt. Johnson the Medal of Honor in 2015.

When Congress authorized the Naming Commission to provide new names to bases originally named after Confederate leaders, I knew that Henry Johnson was a perfect candidate for this honor.  

I’m overjoyed that Sgt. Johnson has now received the revered company of American Heroes whose names are now affixed to our military bases. Now, a Black American hero is taking the place of a Confederate commander in the South – it is correcting history in a good way. Fort Johnson will forever stand proud as an inspiration for generations to come.