The Black war heroes of World War I were loaded with honors in France. Back home in the United States, they marched down 5th Avenue to Harlem in one tickertape parade – then on to oblivion. No medals. No honor. No respect.
Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish takes the injustice personally. A wrong should be put right, he believes, even if it is 90 years late.
Fish says he will appeal to Oregon's Congressional delegation – asking them to put forward a bill that would award at least one of these heroes – Sgt. Henry Lincoln Johnson -- the Congressional Medal of Honor.
"As a black American during the time of Jim Crow, he volunteered to fight for democracy – even though he didn't enjoy the fruits of democracy," Fish says. "And he displayed incredible courage on the battle field. If anyone deserves a Medal of Honor, it is Henry Lincoln Johnson – I can't think of a better candidate."
President Theodore Roosevelt happened to agree. He called Johnson "one of the five bravest men who fought in World War I."
After World Wars 1 and 11, the Medal of Honor was awarded to 549 of America's bravest. Incredibly, not one black soldier, of the 1.5 million who served, was among their number.
In 1991, Congressmen Joe DioGuardi, and Mickey Leland succeeded in their campaign to obtain a Medal of Honor for Corporal Freddie Stowers, who was fatally wounded in Ardeuil, France, while courageously leading his men to win a battle. Stowers military file contained a recommendation for the Medal of Honor that had been "misplaced" and never processed.
Reps. Dio Guardi and Leland pushed for an investigation and, finally, in 1993 seven Medals of Honor were awarded to African American war heroes. All of them were from WWII. In 1998, after a similar investigation into discrimination against Asian Americans, Clinton awarded 21 new Medals of Honor – one of them to the longtime Hawaii Senator, Daniel Inouye.
"I still believe that not enough has been done to make up for the blatant racism that existed in the first half of the 20th century – especially with segregated army divisions, in World Wars I and II," former Congressman Dio Guardi tells The Skanner.
Commissioner Fish is offended by the legacy of racism that continues to sideline black war heroes. But this native New Yorker, Harvard
graduate and lawyer with a track record of championing the underdog, is also motivated by a powerful family obligation to correct this historic wrong. You see, his grandfather, Hamilton Fish Jr., recruited those men to the 369th and fought with them as a captain. And it was from him that Fish learned the story of the Harlem Hellfighters, and their daring feats.
Hamilton Fish III., was also a Harvard graduate – as well as an all American football tackle. His experience with New York's Fifteenth National Guard, which became the 369th Infantry Regiment was to change him for ever.
Dio Guardi argues that every black soldier who received France's highest honor should also be accorded America's highest war decoration – the Medal of Honor.
Commissioner Fish says he plans to fight for at least one soldier to be recognized with the Medal of Honor: Henry Lincoln Johnson.
The Skanner News Medal of Honor series
Documents supporting Sgt. Henry Lincoln Johnson's Medal of Honor Bid