Sgt. Henry Johnson
On June 5, 1917, Albany resident Henry Johnson enlisted in the first African American unit in the U.S. Army to engage in combat in World War I. In May 1918 Johnson heroically fought off a German raid in hand-to-hand combat, saving the life of a fellow soldier. For his bravery, Johnson received France’s highest award for valor, becoming the first American to receive this distinction. Sgt. Johnson returned to Albany in 1919. Despite having been wounded 21 times, he received no honors from his home country. He died, destitute, in 1929, in his mid-30s. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Sgt. Henry Johnson was finally recognized by the United States government for his service to his country when he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. In 2015 he was awarded the National Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest military honor – by President Barack Obama.
This commemorative coin-shaped medallion offers an opportunity for our nation to recognize the 100th anniversary of Sgt. Henry Johnson’s act of valor, and to honor the spirit of service to community.