The Battle of Henry Johnson, When a single Black soldier killed 4 Germans, and wounded 20 more in WWI

Published: 24 March 2024

By Ernada
via the Lipstick Alley website

Henry Johnson Medal of Honor framed

Henry Johnson Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Sgt. Henry Johnson​

He was 26 years old, 5-foot-4, weighed 130 pounds and came from Albany, New York. And on the night of May 15, 1918, Army Pvt. Henry Johnson, a member of the all-black New York National Guard 369th Infantry Regiment, found himself fighting for his life against 20 German soldiers out in front of his unit’s trench line.

Johnson fired the three rounds in his French-made rifle, tossed all his hand grenades and then grabbed his Army-issue bolo knife and started stabbing. He buried the knife in the head of one attacker and then disemboweled another German soldier.

“Each slash meant something, believe me,” Johnson said later. “There wasn’t anything so fine about it. … Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done that.”

Henry Johnson wearing France’s Croix de Guerre medal.

By the time what a reporter called “The Battle of Henry Johnson” was over, Johnson had been wounded 21 times and had become the first American hero of World War I.

Johnson’s actions that night brought attention to the African-American doughboys of the unit, the New York National Guard’s former 15th Infantry, redesignated the 369th for wartime service.

The 369th Infantry, detached under the French 4th Army’s command, arrived on the front-line trenches in the Champagne region of northeastern France on April 15, 1918. They were relieved to be free of the supply and service tasks of the past months and ready to join the fight.

The American Expeditionary Forces detached the regiment to bolster an ally and preserve racial segregation in the American command. The French welcomed the regiment that would earn its nickname as the “Hellfighters from Harlem.”

Fought by only two soldiers, the regiment’s first battle would otherwise be a footnote in World War I history if not for the scrutiny the all-black regiment faced at the time.

After weeks of combat patrols, raids and artillery barrages, Johnson and his buddy, Pvt. Needham Roberts, 17, of Trenton, New Jersey, stood watch near a bridge over the Aisne River at Bois d’Hauzy during the night of May 15.

Read the entire article on the Lipstick Alley website.
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