President Barack Obama on Tuesday awarded the nation’s highest military honor to a pair of slighted American soldiers, whose bravery during World War I had never been fully recognized.
“We have work to do, as a nation, to make sure that all of our heroes’ stories are told,” Obama said. “And we’ll keep at it, no matter how long it takes. America is the country we are today because of people like Henry and William -- Americans who signed up to serve, and rose to meet their responsibilities -- and then went beyond. The least we can do is to say: We know who you are. We know what you did for us. We are forever grateful.”
The two men, Pvt. Henry Johnson, who was African-American, and Sgt. William Shemin, who was Jewish, had not been honored earlier in part because of their background.
In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Obama described the courage that the two showed during intense fighting at the height of the war.
Johnson helped his “Harlem Hellfighters” regiment fight a surprise attack by the Germans on May 15, 1918. He prevented a wounded soldier from being captured. He died a decade later from combat-related injuries.
Shemin repeatedly helped wounded soldiers while fighting machine-gun fire and artillery shells. He was injured but survived. he died in 1973.
The medals Tuesday marked the 44th and 45th Obama had awarded.