A Jewish World War I veteran who raced across the battlefield to rescue the wounded and a member of the "Harlem Hellfighters," the first African-American infantry unit to fight in World War, will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor next month at the White House.
President Barack Obama will bestow the medals for conspicuous gallantry to Army Sgt. William Shemin and Army Private Henry Johnson at a June 2 ceremony.
Shemin will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces. Shemin distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of the Vesle River, Bazoches, France, on August 7-9, 1918, the White House said.
Shemin entered the Army on October 2, 1917. He was assigned as a rifleman to Company G, 47th Infantry Regiment, which moved from Syracuse, New York to Camp Greene, North Carolina, joining the 4th Infantry Division. The Division arrived in France in May, 1918.
While serving as a rifleman from August 7-9, 1918, 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, the White House said. After officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, he took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire, until he was wounded on Aug. 9.
His daughter, Elsie Shemin-Roth of Webster Grove, Missouri, who worked for nearly a decade to secure the honor for her father, will accept the medal on her father’s behalf.
Johnson will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, American Expeditionary Forces. Then-Private Johnson distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of the Tourbe and Aisne Rivers, northwest of Saint Menehoul, France, on May 15, 1918, the White House said.
The Albany Times-Union says Johnson, whose recognition also took decades, was part of the " ‘Harlem Hellfighter’ attached to the French army in 1918 when the U.S. Army was racially segregated.” It said he fought off a German attack despite severe wounds, killing four enemy soldiers and wounding a dozen more.
Johnson entered the Army on June 5, 1917. He was assigned to Company C, 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, an all-black National Guard unit that would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment. The Regiment was ordered into battle in 1918, and Johnson and his unit were brigaded with a French Army colonial unit in front-line combat.
While on night sentry duty on May 15, 1918, Johnson and a fellow soldier encountered a surprise attack by a German raiding party of at least 12 soldiers, the White House said. “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, Private Johnson prevented him from being taken prisoner by German forces. Private Johnson exposed himself to grave danger by advancing from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Displaying great courage, Private Johnson held back the enemy force until they retreated.”
Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard will accept the Medal of Honor Johnson’s behalf.