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Henry Johnson, the One-Man Army Who Fought Off Dozens of German Soldiers in May 1918 during World War I

By Mildred Europa Taylor
via the face2faceafrica.com web site

Even though minorities served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War, they were usually not given the needed training and support compared to their white folks.

That was William Henry Johnson’s situation from the beginning. The Albany, New York native had enlisted in the all-black 15th New York National Guard Regiment, which was renamed the 369th Infantry Regiment when it shipped out to France.

William Henry JohnsonWilliam Henry JohnsonThe unit performed menial jobs as members were poorly trained but it was later lent to the French Fourth Army, which was experiencing a shortage of men.

With the French Army, Johnson would perform an act of heroism, earning him praise from then-President Theodore Roosevelt who eventually called him one of the “five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I.

What was this brave act? Johnson fought off scores of Germans single-handedly in the Forest of Argonne in 1918 during World War I.

Having joined the French Fourth Army, Johnson and his men who became the Harlem Hellfighters, were sent to the front lines in March 1918. They learned enough French words to be able to understand commands from superiors. They were given French rifles and helmets, even though they held on to the bolo knives used by the U.S. Army.

Alongside Needham Roberts, a man from Trenton, Johnson was assigned sentry duty on the western edge of the Forest of Argonne in 1918.

Johnson and Roberts were given the late shift; they were to patrol until midnight on the evening of May 14. They weren’t on duty long when the Germans started attacking them.

It first started with strange noises late into the night. Hearing these, Johnson urged Roberts, who was then tired and resting, to get up. But Roberts ignored, thinking his fellow soldier was just nervous.

Johnson, nevertheless, began “piling up his assortment of grenades and rifle cartridges within arm’s reach. If someone was coming, he would be ready,” writes Mental Floss.

Then he began to hear rustling noises, which ultimately became German soldiers who were rushing through the darkness. Realizing they were surrounded, Johnson urged Roberts to run and get help. This was around 2.a.m.

Roberts was hit with a grenade in the process and got badly wounded to the extent that he couldn’t fight. Lying in the trench, Johnson handed him grenades, which he threw at the Germans.

But the German forces were too many, and they were advancing from every direction. Soon, Johnson ran out of grenades.

Read the entire article on the face2faceafrica web site here:

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