Henry Johnson awarded the Medal of Honor

henry johnson medal of honor white house

Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson of the New York Army National Guard (left) accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of Henry Johnson. / screengrab via White House live feed on YouTube

Albany WWI hero Henry Johnson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor today at the White House. It is the nation's highest military honor. And it comes almost a century after Johnson's acts in France, after decades of work to obtain the recognition.

"It's never too late to say thank you," remarked Barack Obama at the start of the ceremony to honor Johnson and William Shemin, another WWI Medal of Honor recipient from New York State.

Henry Johnson Croix de Guerre
Henry Johnson displaying his French Croix de Guerre. / photo via Wikipedia

Henry Johnson served in France with the famed Harlem Hellfighters, who had been placed under the command of French forces because of racism within the US Army. While on sentry duty in 1918 he fought off a surprise German attack of at least 12 soldiers and saved a fellow American soldier, all while being wounded multiple times. Upon his return to the United States he was initially hailed as a hero. But he was later marginalized after speaking out about the racism African-Americans faced in the military. Unable to work because of his war injuries, Johnson's personal life crumbled and he died at the age of 32.

The effort to have Johnson formally recognized with military honors such as the Purple Heart (awarded in 1996) and Medal of Honor was decades long, outliving some of its most passionate supporters, notably the late John Howe.

Said Barack Obama at the White House ceremony:

"It has taken a long time for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition they deserve. And there are surely others whose heroism is still unacknowledged and uncelebrated. So we have work to do as a nation to make sure that all of our heroes stories are told. And we'll keep at it, as long at it takes. America is the country it is today because of people like Henry and William, Americans who signed up to serve and rose to meet their responsibilities -- and then went beyond. The least we can say is 'We know who you are. We know what you did for us. We are forever grateful.'"

Here's video of the ceremony.

The State Museum has set up an exhibit about both Henry Johnson and William Shemin in its main lobby through June 8.

Earlier on AOA: Henry Johnson will be awarded the Medal of Honor -- finally

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