Army Sgt. Henry Johnson’s heroics on the battlefield — wounded 21 times and under enemy fire — earned him international acclaim.
He led his all-Black 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” in a parade up New York’s Fifth Avenue in 1919 and became the first American — Black or white — to be given the Croix de Guerre by the French government.
Despite former President Theodore Roosevelt calling Johnson one of the bravest Americans to serve during World War I, it would take nearly 100 years for the Winston-Salem native to be fully honored by the U.S. government for his bravery.
But after years of pushing by his family, Johnson’s name and bravery are finally again being recognized.
In 1996, 67 years after Johnson’s death at the age of 36, President Bill Clinton awarded him a Purple Heart for the 21 wounds he received in a pitched night of battle.
In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest recognition of military valor.
And in June, the Army formerly renamed Fort Polk in Louisiana as Fort Johnson.
“I kept my promise to my father that granddad would get the Medal of Honor,” Tara Johnson told the Journal in a recent interview.
From Winston-Salem to France
Henry Johnson was born on July 15, 1892, in what is now Winston-Salem, said Tara Johnson, who lives Toledo, Ohio.
Little is known about his time here.
His family moved to New York state when he was a teenager, part of the Great Migration of Southern Blacks to the North.
“It was a little better going north for African Americans than staying in North Carolina or further south,” Tara Johnson said.
Johnson worked various jobs — as a chauffeur, soda mixer, laborer in a coal yard and a redcap porter at Albany’s Union Station, according to Johnson’s Army biography.
He enlisted in the Army on June 5, 1916, and was assigned to the 15th New York National Guard Regiment, which eventually was renamed the 369th.
Johnson volunteered because he was proud to be an American, Tara Johnson said.
“He went into the service because of the fact he was an American, and it was his God-given right to defend America,” Tara Johnson said.