It is one thing to show super-human aptitude for a country that loves you, but to do so for a country that deems you to be sub-human – to the point that they withhold honors earned in the line of duty is beyond belief. When you watch movies depicting D.Day (Normandy), the Allied attacks on the Nazi surge, and anything dealing with the 1940’s militarily, it is easy to forget that black people existed, let alone fought. It being very much a white man’s world during these times, blacks were kept out of books and camera view, especially when films were being made to record the military. Now think about how bad it must’ve been during World War I for African Americans who served in the Army. This sad fact led to men like Sergeant Henry Lincoln Johnson being overlooked and ignored, even when taking 21 injuries from an army of German soldiers as he fought (with a bolo knife) to protect a fellow soldier. Dogs got more love than the Sergeant did, and it took decades of fighting by his loved ones to garner him the Distinguished Service Cross (second only to the coveted Medal of Honor) posthumously.
It was May 14, 1918 when a 24 man German raid set upon an encampment inhabited by two American soldiers. The German’s intent was to capture and kill a few American soldiers but the only men there were Private Henry Lincoln Johnson and Private Needham Roberts. Upon storming the camp, Private Johnson was injured and Needham Roberts was captured. Left for dead, Private Johnson rushed after the Germans shooting with his rifle until it jammed, at which point he used it as a club to bludgeon an enemy to death with it. Recovering a grenade from the fallen German, Johnson tossed it into their ranks decimating many of them from the blast. To rescue his friend, Johnson pulled his Bolo knife and used it to fend off the rest until French reinforcements arrived and the Germans retreated.
Due to the segregation of the military (ya I know it sounds retarded enough) , Johnson’s 369th unit known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” were forced to fight with the French as part of their 4th Army. This is why the then Private Henry Lincoln Johnson was awarded the French military’s highest honor – The French Croix de Guere with Gold Palm. This distinction comes with the following inscription:
“Johnson, Henry (13348), private in company C, being on double sentry duty during the night and having been assaulted by a group composed of at least one dozen Germans, shot and disabled one of them and grievously wounded two others with his bolo. In spite of three wounds with pistol bullets and grenades at the beginning of the fight, this man ran to the assistance of his wounded comrade who was about to be carried away prisoner by the enemy, and continued to fight up to the retreat of the Germans. He has given a beautiful example of courage and activity.”
President Theodore Roosevelt named Johnson as “one of the five bravest men who fought in World War I.” Yet no honors were given to him. It is an honor that I can help you all remember men like Henry Johnson, this black history month, who cared not for awards, acceptance or change when he laid his life on the line. He did so to win back a friend from the enemy, and in doing so exhibited bravery under the most extreme of circumstances. Sergeant Henry Lincoln Johnson is our Badass of The Month.See some words or phrases that you don't understand? Check out The Dragon's Lexicon.