African Americans in World War I
Image from: Scott, The American Negro in the World War (1919).
A twenty-one-year-old railroad porter from Albany, New York, Henry Johnson became one of the heroes of the war. On the morning of 14 May 1918, Johnson was on guard duty with fellow private Needham Roberts at a bridge near the Aisne River in the Argonne Forest. Surprised by a German patrol of around twenty-five soldiers, both men were wounded and Roberts captured. Johnson then attacked the Germans with his rifle, a grenade, and a bolo knife, killing at least four, wounding ten, and driving off the rest. Reinforcements arrived to find the two exhausted men laughing and singing; Roberts had been wounded five times and Johnson twenty-one times. Both men became the first Americans to receive the French Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, the highest French military honor. Although this photograph shows Henry Johnson in a victory parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City, no black serviceman was awarded the Medal of Honor for service in WWI until Johnson received the medal posthumously in 2003.