Two deserving WWI Soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor

Nearly 100 years later, their actions still warrant recognition


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On June 2, the President will award the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Sergeant William Shemin and to Army Private Henry Johnson for conspicuous gallantry during World War I.

Shemin will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in the vicinity of the Vesle River, Bazoches, France, on Aug. 7-9, 1918, while serving as a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces.

Shemin left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded. After officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire, until he was wounded.

Sgt. Henry Johnson (left) and Sgt. William Shemin will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor.

Sgt. Henry Johnson (left) and Sgt. William Shemin will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor.

Johnson will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in the vicinity of the Tourbe and Aisne Rivers, northwest of Saint Menehoul, France, on May 15, 1918, while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, American Expeditionary Forces, also known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.”

While on night sentry  Johnson and a fellow Soldier were ambushed by a German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers. While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation resulting in several enemy casualties. When his fellow soldier was badly wounded,  Johnson prevented him from being taken prisoner by German forces. Johnson exposed himself to grave danger by advancing from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Displaying great courage,  Johnson held back the enemy force until they retreated.

Johnson was later awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, the French government’s highest award for valor.

The century-delayed honors for both men are the result of what many feel were a racial bias for those awarded the nation’s highest medal.

 

Author

Tim Hudak

  joined the VA in December 2013 and is on the Veterans Experience Office team. Tim, a Chicago-land native enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of high school. As an intelligence analyst he deployed to Al Anbar province, Iraq with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 in 2006 and 2008. After the Marine Corps, Tim used the GI Bill to earn a degree in Intelligence Studies from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and co-founded the university’s first student Veteran organization. Tim is active in many Veteran organizations.