SCRANTON, Pa. (MCT) — Wounded, but armed with a knife and a rifle, Sgt. Henry Lincoln Johnson fought off about two dozen Germans trying to take a fellow U.S. soldier captive in May 1918 in France during World War I.
Almost a century later, his grandson Herman Johnson, a Clarks Summit councilman, is hoping to see the man receive the Medal of Honor.
The secretary of defense has nominated him for the award, New York Sen. Charles Schumer announced this week. Because it has been so long, the process requires action by both houses of Congress before going to President Barack Obama for his signature.
It’s an honor that should have happened immediately after the war, said Mr. Johnson.
“He wasn’t recognized, and it saddens me for one simple reason,” he said.
Because he was black.
Sgt. Johnson was born in Virginia, the son of a former slave, and moved to Albany, New York, with his family in search of a better life.
As a teen, he joined the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment, which earned the name the “Harlem Hellfighters,” because of their ferocious fighting in Europe.
Sgt. Johnson returned to a harsh reality. Despite suffering war wounds, his grandson said, he was denied veteran’s benefits.
He turned to alcohol and lost his family before dying at 32.
“He really had a sad end,” Mr. Johnson said.
But one of his three sons, Mr. Johnson’s namesake uncle, grew up to become a Tuskegee Airman, the first African- Americans to fly for the U.S. military in World War II.
Thanks to the efforts of that son, and organizations like the Friends of the Forgotten and the VFW, Sgt. Johnson — who received the highest award from the French government — is on the cusp of receiving the most prestigious U.S. military honor.
“It’s a healing,” Mr. Johnson said. “I don’t know any other way to phrase it.”
©2014 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)
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