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This Is Why We Stand: Henry Johnson


Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy." Those words come from one great man and can be applied to so many others who served our country. Henry Johnson is one of those many men.

Johnson served in an all-black National Guard unit that was among the first American forces to arrive in Europe during World War I. His famed unit would go on to earn the nickname of the "Harlem Hellfighters", a testament to their strength on the battlefield.

On May 14, 1918, Johnson and another soldier were serving sentry duty when they came under attack by 20 German troops. Johnson's comrade was immediately wounded so badly that he could not stand or shoot. This left Johnson to stand alone to fight back with his rifle and hand grenades. Johnson was shot several times as he traded fire with the Germans. After his rifle jammed, he used it as a club and fought hand-to-hand until it broke into pieces.

Johnson noticed that the Germans were trying to take his ally as a prisoner. With nothing left but a bolo knife, he slashed his way through the enemy, denying them the capture of his fellow soldier. Once reinforcements arrived and the Germans were forced back, it was discovered that Johnson had inflicted 12 casualties on the attackers, while sustaining 21 wounds to himself during the fighting.

Henry Johnson's unparalleled bravery went unrewarded for far too long. Johnson did not live to receive America's highest honor, but on June 2, 2015, he was finally awarded the Medal of Honor.

Dr. King and Henry Johnson each had to endure inequality, but neither ever gave up on their country. Courage, sacrifice, and dedication. All are words that help to build a better world. Those words will always hold a special meaning in the memories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry Johnson.

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