Two awarded Medal of Honor for action in WWI

In a ceremony at the White House, President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Army Sgt. William Shemin and Army Pvt. Henry Johnson for conspicuous gallantry during World War I.

Army Pvt. Henry Johnson

Army Pvt. Henry Johnson

Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson accepts the Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Army Pvt. Henry Johnson for conspicuous gallantry during World War I, at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. (Photo: Pete Souza)

Johnson entered the Army on June 5, 1917. He was assigned to Company C, 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, an all-black National Guard unit that would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment.

The Regiment was ordered into battle in 1918, and Johnson and his unit were brigaded with a French Army colonial unit in front-line combat.

While on night sentry duty on May 15, 1918, Johnson and a fellow soldier received a surprise attack by a German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers.

While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation resulting in several enemy casualties.

When his fellow soldier was badly wounded, Johnson prevented him from being taken prisoner by German forces. He exposed himself to grave danger by advancing from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Displaying great courage, Johnson held back the enemy force until they retreated.

Army Sgt. William Shemin

Army Sgt. William Shemin

Ina Judith Bass, left, and Elise Shemin-Roth accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of their father Army Sgt. William Shemin given posthumously for conspicuous gallantry during World War I, at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. (Photo: Pete Souza)

Shemin entered the Army on Oct. 2, 1917. He was assigned as a rifleman to Company G, 47th Infantry Regiment, which moved from Syracuse, New York, to Camp Greene, North Carolina, joining the 4th Infantry Division. The Division arrived in France in May 1918.

While serving as a rifleman from Aug. 7-9, 1918, he left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded.

After officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire, until he was wounded, Aug. 9.

[ White House ]