Editorial: Give soldier his final honor
He didn't get his Medal of Honor because of racism.
He should get it because of heroism.
Any of us who've driven around the Capital District have probably heard the name Henry Johnson. A main road leading to Route 9 and the interstates out of the city of Albany is named after him. A charter school and a post office annex in Albany also bear his name. There's a huge bronze and stone memorial to him in Albany's Washington Park. And he's buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The nation of France presented him with an award for valor, and President Clinton awarded him a posthumous Purple Heart in 2002. Henry Johnson isn't lacking in honors, except for one. The one he deserves.
Sgt. Henry Johnson was a member of the all-black New York National Guard unit, the 15th New York Infantry, during World War I. (It later became the 369th Infantry Regiment.) While serving on guard duty in France on May 14, 1918, his unit came under attack from about two dozen Germans. The 5-foot-4-inch Johnson fought them off using his rifle and a bolo knife. In doing so, he rescued a fellow soldier from being captured, chased off the German soldiers he didn't kill, and saved the lives of his fellow soldiers.
He never received the Medal of Honor he deserved, however, an omission attributed to racist attitudes at the time and Johnson's own willingness to speak out on the struggles of black soldiers.
Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has an application on his desk to finally award Johnson his Medal of Honor. If he signs it, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Obama would have to grant final approval.
We join many other voices in encouraging the secretary, the Joint Chiefs and the president to give Sgt. Henry Johnson the recognition in death that he was unfairly deprived of during his life.