b. 15/07/1892 Winston-Salem, North Carolina. d. 01/07/1929 Washington DC.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 15/05/1918 France.
He said that he was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on July 15, 1892, when he registered for the World War I draft, but he used other dates on other documents, so he may not have known the exact date of his birth. He moved to Albany, New York when he was in his early teens. He worked as a redcap porter at the Albany Union Station on Broadway.
Johnson enlisted in the United States Military on June 5, 1917, joining the all-black New York National Guard 17th Infantry Regiment, which, when mustered into Federal service was redesignated as the 369th Infantry Regiment, based in Harlem.
The 369th Infantry joined the 185th Infantry Brigade upon arrival in France, but the unit was relegated to labor service duties instead of combat training. The 185th Infantry Brigade was in turn assigned on January 5, 1918 to the 93rd Infantry Division. The French Army assigned Johnson's regiment to Outpost 20 on the edge of the Argonne Forest in the Champagne region of France and equipped them with French rifles and helmets. While on guard duty on May 14, 1918, Private Johnson came under attack by a large German raider party, which may have numbered as many as 24 German soldiers. Johnson displayed uncommon heroism when, using grenades, the butt of his rifle, a bolo knife, and his bare fists, he repelled the Germans, thereby rescuing Needham Roberts from capture and saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. Johnson suffered 21 wounds during this ordeal. This act of valor earned him the nickname of "Black Death", as a sign of respect for his prowess in combat.
The story of Johnson's exploits first came to national attention in an article by Irvin S. Cobb entitled "Young Black Joe" published in the August 24, 1918 Saturday Evening Post. He died on July 1, 1929 in Washington, DC of myocarditis. On June 2, 2015, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard on behalf of Private Johnson.
Private Johnson distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, American Expeditionary Forces, during combat operations against the enemy on the front lines of the Western Front in France on May 15, 1918. Private Johnson and another soldier were on sentry duty at a forward outpost when they received a surprise attack from a German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers. While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Private Johnson mounted a brave retaliation, resulting in several enemy casualties. When his fellow soldier was badly wounded, Private Johnson prevented him from being taken prisoner by German forces. Private Johnson exposed himself to grave danger by advancing from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Wielding only a knife and gravely wounded himself, Private Johnson continued fighting and took his Bolo knife and stabbed it through an enemy soldier’s head. Displaying great courage, Private Johnson held back the enemy force until they retreated. Private Johnson’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.
BURIAL LOCATION: ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA.
Section 25, Lot 64
NO IMAGE AVAILABLE