© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Albany officials mark Henry Johnson Day at Medal of Honor recipient’s eponymous school

This year, the city of Albany shared the story of World War I hero Henry Johnson directly with schoolchildren for the first time.

Students at the Henry Johnson Charter School in Albany gathered with city officials to commemorate Henry Johnson Day Monday morning. June 5th marks the 106th anniversary of Sgt. Johnson’s enlistment in the 369th Infantry Regiment in World War I. 369th veteran Ronald Wilson spoke to youngsters about Johnson's life in Albany and his heroism.

“Sgt. Henry Johnson was a soldier just like me," said Wilson. "Before he was a soldier, he was a kid, just like you. When Henry Johnson was a teenager, he worked serving soda, as well as helping people carry their bags on and off the trains. Didn't have a job then decided to join the army, where he was assigned to the 369th regimen, an all-Black regiment. Because back then he didn't have a choice. Then one night, while on watch with Needham Roberts, they were attacked by 15 to 20 enemy soldiers, maybe more. Sgt. Henry Johnson was able to fight them all off. And at the same time, helping his friend Needham Roberts, not be captured. For his bravery, the president named that battle, the battle sudden Henry Johnson. He is also said to be one of the bravest soldiers of the entire war. “

Johnson received the French military’s highest recognition, the Croix de Guerre. In February 1919, he returned to New York where he joined fellow-soldiers for a parade up Fifth Avenue, then Johnson came home to Albany, where historians say he died, destitute, in 1929, at age 32. Wilson told the children the small-statured Johnson demonstrated that anyone can be a hero.

"5-foot-4, 130 pounds," Wilson said. "The bravery I spoke of was a man that size. That shows no matter how big you are, no matter how small you are, you can be a hero. You just have to believe that you can be."

The commemoration at Henry Johnson Charter School was led by Chief City Auditor Dorcey Applyrs.

“Today was the first time that we've had the program here," Applyrs said. "And I think it was symbolic and very meaningful for the students to hear more about what this name on the building means. They come in every day, they see the name and sometimes you just get so routine that you don't stop to reflect on the ‘why,’ and today for many of them was crystallizing the why. This school is named after a very heroic man that came from this community. And so now when they walk in the building and they see the name, it is my hope that they will understand that there's a bigger meaning behind this name being on the building, and that they can walk in here, understanding that just like Sgt. Henry Johnson, they too are destined for greatness and they have the ability to leave behind a legacy.”

In 1996 Johnson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. He received the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2015. School principal George Borum says since it opened in 2007, the school has followed Johnson’s model.

“So one of the things we do we talk about our habit of mind, that's our character education," said Borum. "And we talked about duty, courage, self-reliance and responsibility. Want to a level where kids can understand it. So we're asking them to do things in the classroom, in and out of the classroom, especially when people aren't around. We want to make sure that doing the right thing but also being allowed to be able to make mistakes and be responsible enough to be able to understand how that affects others in their in their community as well.”

Albany also opened the nomination period for the 7th Annual Henry Johnson Award for Distinguished Community Service, which recognizes a city resident who has given time and talent to the city and displayed community leadership. The deadline for nominations is August 18.

 A mural of Henry Johnson and the 369th on a building along Henry Johnson Blvd. in Albany.
Samantha Simmons
A mural of Henry Johnson and the 369th on a building along Henry Johnson Blvd. in Albany.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.