A Soldier's Story: Sergeant Henry Johnson

Sergeant Henry Johnson was believed to be born on July 15, 1892, in Tallahassee, FL. He made his way north to New York City and worked as a redcap porter. On July 15, 1917, he enlisted into the New York National Guard, 15th Infantry Regiment, in response to World War I.

Ultimately absorbed into the 369th Infantry division that came to be known as the "Harlem Hellfighters,"  they were "loaned" to France's 161st division by General Pershing.

On May 14, 1918, while on guard duty at Outpost 20 in the Argonne Forest, Sergeant Henry Johnson came under attack by a raiding party of approximately 24 enemy soldiers. Sergeant Henry Johnson earned the name "Black Death" that day by ultimately winning the confrontation using grenades, his rifle butt, a bolo knife, and his fists. He survived with more than 21 wounds. His story was told in a Saturday Evening Post article called "Young Black Joe."

After his enlistment, he briefly joined a lecture tour, but after Sergeant Henry Johnson spilled the beans on the racism in the trenches, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Sergeant Henry Johnson acquired tuberculosis and died on July 1, 1929. The American Legion has called him one of the five bravest Americans in World War I


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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