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Henry Johnson Honored In Albany Tribute Ahead Of DC Ceremony Tuesday

Ahead of a White House Medal of Honor ceremony scheduled for Tuesday, New York U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and other state officials gathered Sunday afternoon in Albany's Washington Park to pay tribute to Sgt. Henry Johnson.

Senator Schumer laid a wreath at the Sgt. Henry Johnson Monument in the Park. Schumer told the gathering he had visited the monument "many times" during his 16-year effort to secure the long-awaited recognition and make right what he called a "century-old wrong."     "It is just an amazing day. And it's the kind of day that gives you faith in this country, 'cos unlike every other country, America corrects it's mistakes, and here we had veterans of every race, religion, creed and color of all ages, veterans of all wars, all from the Capital Region, coming together and making this possible. It makes me proud of the Capital Region and proud to be an American."

Henry Johnson suffered 21 wounds and rescued a fellow soldier while singlehandedly repelling an enemy raid in France in 1918.  He and 17-year-old fellow soldier Needham Roberts received the French military’s highest recognition, the Croix de Guerre.  In February of 1919, the Harlem Hellfighters returned to New York for a parade up Fifth Avenue, and Johnson returned to Albany, where historians say he died, destitute, in 1929, at age 32.

A big break in the initiative to procure the Medal of Honor for Johnson came, according to Schumer, when uploaded printed materials began appearing on the searchable internet. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan:     "Without Senator Schumer's office I don't think we would be standing here. It was one of his aides, one of his staffers who really dug through and went back, like it was a cold case, but using new technology came back and really searched and searched and found the evidence needed to make this day possible."

That staffer was able to locate documents which provided the evidence needed to get legislation passed through both houses of Congress to waive the five-year statute of limitations on the Medal of Honor award so that it could be bestowed on Henry Lincoln Johnson.    "The military clearly has very strict rules. I mean the Medal of Honor is the highest honor that one can ear, so there needs to be evidence of the heroism that earns this very distinguished medal. and it was really the tenacity of a number of people who said that they weren't going to let this go. You know the only reason that he didn't get this medal at the time that he came home was because of the racism that existed, because of the fact that he wasn't even able to fight under his own country's flag. So this is really very important for Henry Johnson, but it's also symbolic. It's important to an entire community."

Sheehan and Schumer will join several dignitaries on hand for the formal Medal of Honor award ceremony Tuesday morning in Washington D.C.

Johnson died in 1929 and has no living relatives. Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson of the National Guard, will be in DC to accept the nation's highest military award from President Barack Obama on Johnson's behalf.

The proceedings will be streamed live at Albany City Hall, where several big-screen TV's are being erected for public viewing.

BONUS AUDIO - hear the entire press conference recorded Sunday, May 31, 2015 in Albany's Washington Park.

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.
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