A long-forgotten military report written by the commander of U.S. forces in Europe during World War I and two other recently uncovered accounts of an Albany soldier's heroics in the trenches of France bolster efforts to get a posthumous Medal of Honor for the New York doughboy, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday.
Retrieved from the National Archives by Schumer's staff, the report by Gen. John J. Pershing in May 1918 came just days after Sgt. Henry Johnson of Albany fought off a German raiding party while rescuing Pvt. Neadom Roberts, a wounded comrade.
New York officials and veterans have been trying for decades to convince the Pentagon to award the Medal of Honor to Johnson, a member of an all-black regiment who died in 1929. In 2003, he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest military honor.
Pershing's report on Johnson's actions was included in a bulletin sent May 20, 1918, from the General Headquarters of the American Expeditionary Force. Pershing mentions Johnson and Roberts fighting off a German raid despite being wounded and outnumbered.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said Pershing's report and two other documents recently uncovered -- an eyewitness account and a letter from Johnson's commanding officer -- are enough evidence for the Pentagon to reopen Johnson's case.
"I can't see how they're going to turn him down once we introduce this evidence," Schumer said Tuesday at the Johnson memorial in an Albany park.
"It wasn't lack of heroism; it was lack of documentation," Schumer said. He said he will ask the secretary of the Army, former New York congressman John McHugh, to consider the new evidence in Johnson's case. McHugh could then recommend a review by the secretary of defense, who could then forward it to the president.
Johnson, a private at the time of his heroics, served with the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment, a New York National Guard unit based in Manhattan and known as the Harlem Hellfighters. Because the U.S. armed forces were segregated at the time, the 369th was serving under French command when Johnson's outfit arrived on the front lines in early 1918.
Johnson and Roberts, a native of Trenton, N.J., were on night sentry duty when Germans attacked their outposts early on May 15. According to official accounts of the skirmish, they were attacked by 12 to 20 of the enemy.
Col. William Hayward's letter provides graphic detail of the desperate hand-to-hand combat Johnson and Roberts fought that night. Rifles, bayonets and grenades were employed in the trenches before Johnson used a bolo knife to stab the enemy until several were down and the others retreated.