WWI hero Henry Johnson honored in Albany

May 15, 2018 01:05 PM

It was 100 years ago today that Albany World War I hero Sgt. Henry Johnson earned the nickname “Black Death.” On May 15, 1918, Johnson went into hand-to-hand combat and protected his partner from a German regiment. When a German sniper tried to take them both out, he fought back with grenades, a gun, and even a machete.  

Johnson was an African-American soldier who originally tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was kept out by segregation. But then he and the all-black “Harlem Hell Fighers” went to France and fought bravely on the front lines.

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He sustained many wounds, but died without decoration in 1929.

Posthumously, Johnson was awarded several honors:

  • 1991, the Medal of Valor from France
  • 1996, the Purple Heart from President Bill Clinton
  • 2002, the Distinguished Service Cross from President George W. Bush
  • 2015, the Medal of Honor from President Barrack Obama

A wreath was laid Tuesday morning at Johnson's monument in Washington Park to commemorate the hero's actions. Further local celebrations -- including a commemorative coin unveiling -- are planned for June.

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