ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Friday, the office of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer announced that a posthumously-honored Albany resident and Harlem Hellfighter member will have his name given new life at a Louisiana fort. In June, Fort Polk is set to be renamed in honor of World War I veteran Sgt. Henry Johnson.
Johnson has been the subject of work from Schumer’s office for years. In 2015, he was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor for service that went unrecognized when he served as a black sergeant in WWI. Johnson served under the “Harlem Hellfighters,” which operated under French command as dictated by segregation policies of the era.
“Sgt. Henry Johnson, Albany resident and Harlem Hellfighter, is a true American hero, who displayed the most profound battlefield bravery in World War I, yet for almost a century the nation for which he was willing to give his life shamefully failed to recognize his heroics, just because he was a black man,” said Schumer. “Now, this summer Sgt. Johnson’s name is slated to rightfully take the place of a Confederate general and have the southern military base renamed in his honor.”
As a private, Johnson fought on the Western Front, fighting off a 20-person German advance. Johnson is remembered for saving fellow soldiers while suffering numerous gunshot wounds and capturing a cache of German weapons in the process. He would come home permanently disabled, and was commended with the Crox de Guerre with Gold Palm, a French military honor. In 2003, Johnson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, with cooperation between Schumer’s office and historical advocates.
The renaming of Fort Polk comes as a result of authorization from Congress earlier this year, allowing the renaming of U.S. military bases and Department of Defense installations originally named after Confederate leaders. The currently-named Fort Polk is based in Vernon Parish, Louisiana, and named after Confederate Army commander Leonidas Polk.
“It took years of research from impassioned advocates and local historians, and, of course my staff, to allow Sgt. Johnson to receive our nation’s highest military award in the Medal of Honor,” said Schumer. “But now this culmination of work has paid off in a profound way and I am proud that this June, we can officially have Fort Johnson standing proud to inspire generations to come.”