Sgt. Henry L. Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin: MEDAL OF HONOR WORLD WAR I

Military Review, September/October 2015 | Go to article overview

Sgt. Henry L. Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin: MEDAL OF HONOR WORLD WAR I


Sgt. Henry L. Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin, veterans of World War I, were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama during a ceremony held 2 June 2015 at the White House. Johnson's award was accepted on his behalf by Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson, the New York National Guard's senior enlisted advisor. Elsie Shemin-Roth and Ina Bass, the daughters of William Shemin, accepted Shemin's award.

Johnson deployed to France's Argonne Forest region with the 369th Infantry Regiment, an all-black unit more famously known as the "Harlem Hellfighters." His award came as a result of his actions 15 May 1918, when a German raiding party of at least a dozen soldiers conducted a night attack on a position he shared with another soldier, Needham Roberts. Johnson and Roberts repelled the attackers with rifles and grenades. When Roberts was rendered unconscious, Johnson fought off the Germans with his knife, refusing to let Roberts be captured by the enemy. He held off the Germans but was wounded twenty-one times during the fight.

For his bravery that night, Johnson was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme, France's highest award for valor, but received no award from his own government. Returning to the United States, he could not work due to his combat injuries and died in 1929 at a veterans hospital.

Shemin deployed to France with the 47th Infantry Regiment, lying about his age to enlist. His award was for his actions during combat operations 7-9 August 1918 near the Vesle River, southeast of Bazoches, France. Fighting from trenches, U.S. and German forces were separated by less than 150 meters of open space. When several soldiers were wounded trying to cross the area, Shemin left the relative safety of the trench to attempt their rescue. …

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