The Medal of Honor posthumously awarded last month to a World War I soldier from Albany should be put on public display in his hometown, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Thursday.
The New York Democrat sent a letter to the New York National Guard asking it to bring Sgt. Henry Johnson’s medal to New York’s capital once it’s handed over by the U.S. Army. Schumer is seeking to have the medal temporarily displayed in City Hall.
“We have had dozens of Capital Region citizens call and ask if the medal could visit Henry Johnson’s hometown,” said Schumer, who was involved in the decades-long effort to bestow the nation’s highest military award on Johnson.
President Barack Obama awarded the medal on June 2 to Johnson, who was black, and Sgt. William Shemin of the Bronx, who was Jewish. The honor came after campaigns to bestow recognition on WWI heroes who may have been unjustly denied the medal due to discrimination.
Johnson has no living relatives, so his medal was accepted during a White House ceremony by Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson, the highest-ranking enlisted man in the New York Army National Guard. Shemin’s medal was given to his two daughters, both in their 80s.
New York National Guard officials said Johnson’s medal is still in the hands of the U.S. Department of the Army, which technically owns the decoration because Johnson has no surviving relatives, said Eric Durr, a spokesman for the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs. Durr said the agency’s military history director is leading the state’s effort to coordinate the transfer of the medal to New York.
Currently, there are no plans by the National Guard to put the medal on display in Albany.
The initial plans call for publicly displaying the medal at the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, 30 miles north of Albany. Durr said it’s too early to say if the medal will be displayed at the National Guard armory in Harlem, headquarters of Johnson’s former unit, the 369th Infantry Regiment, known during WWI as the “Harlem Hellfighters.”
The Harlem armory is undergoing a $42 million renovation.
The North Carolina-born Johnson was a porter at an Albany train station when he enlisted in the National Guard. According to the Army’s Medal of Honor citation, he fought off a German raiding party in France in 1918, saving a comrade from capture despite serious wounds.
Johnson died in 1929 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
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