Unrecognized World War I Heroes Receive Posthumous Medal of Honor
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Unrecognized World War I Heroes Receive Posthumous Medal of Honor

Nearly 100 years after risking their lives to protect fellow soldiers in World War I, an African-American and a Jewish soldier finally received recognition for their heroism.

President Barack Obama posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military award, to Private Henry Johnson and Sergeant William Shemin on June 2, the New York Times reported.

“They both risked their own lives to save the lives of others. It’s never too late to say ‘thank you.’” the President said during the ceremony in the White House’s East Room, according to the Times.

Private Johnson was a member of the all-black “Harlem Hellfighters” regiment of the New York National Guard. On the morning of May 15, 1918, Johnson prevented a German raiding party from capturing a wounded comrade, holding them off with nothing but a knife and accruing injuries of his own.

Because African-American soldiers served under a French command due to segregation in the army, Private Johnson was denied a Purple Heart and went unrecognized by the United States until after his death. Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard accepted the Medal of Honor from President Obama on his behalf.

A rifleman in the 47th Infantry Regiment, Sergeant Shemin repeatedly crossed 150 yards of No Man’s Land to rescue injured soldiers on August 7, 1918. When his superiors all fell in battle, Sergeant Shemin assumed command of his platoon, reorganizing what soldiers were left and continuing to lead rescue missions. Daughters Ina Bass and Elsie Shemin-Roth accepted their late father’s award.

According to the NY Times, President Obama said that Shemins' actions went unnoticed because “Sergeant Shemin served at a time when contributions and heroism of Jewish Americans in uniform were too often overlooked.”

“But William Shemin saved American lives,” the President said, “He represented our nation with honor.”

editor@jewishweek.org

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