Black Ancestors : Henry L. Johnson a.k.a Black Death - Fends Off Captors in WWI

Discussion in 'Honoring Black Ancestors' started by MsInterpret, May 15, 2013.

  1. MsInterpret

    MsInterpret Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Henry L. Johnson Fends Off German Captors During World War I On This Day In 1918

    By D.L. Chandler

    [​IMG]

    United States Army soldier Henry L. Johnson (pictured), also known as “Black Death,” earned his fearsome nickname in France during World War I. After being ambushed by German forces and taken captive, Johnson freed himself and other soldiers using just a rifle and a knife. His heroic act was rewarded by France officials and has been awarded posthumously several times over. NewsOne takes a look back at the riveting tale of Johnson’s run-in with the Germans as he fought his way to freedom and future glory.
    Details of Johnson’s early life are scattered, with some historians saying he was born in Alexandria, Va., and others stating North Carolina was his place of birth. What is agreed upon, however, is that he moved to Albany, N.Y., as a teenager and took on a series of odd jobs, including working as a porter at Albany’s Union Station train stop.
    While in Albany, Johnson married and had three children but still decided there were adventures to be had outside of upstate New York. Johnson joined the Army in June of 1917 in Brooklyn — just two months after the United States declared war on Germany. Johnson was initially part of a National Guard unit, which was later absorbed by the 369th Infantry – a mostly African-American group combined with theNinety-third Division of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).
    Not surprisingly, the U.S. Army used the AEF as laborers and ship workers. Nearly three-thirds of the 200,000 troops worked in this capacity, and only saw the frontlines within the ranks of the French Army after their forces were heavily depleted. AEF forces also contended with fellow White soldiers, who went as far as slandering their names with a pamphlet warning French civilians about them and citing their “inferior nature.”
    Johnson and 17-year-old Needham Roberts were on night watch duty while stationed in France. A German sniper fired off a round at Johnson’s post, and the soldier wisely prepared by grabbing a box of grenades. After the enemy cut wire surrounding his post, Johnson tossed grenades toward the Germans and surprised them. Numbering about 20 deep, the enemy troops returned fire and grenades. Roberts was injured by a German grenade, but he was able to toss Johnson weapons during his defense.
    According to Johnson’s personal account, the Germans attempted to take Roberts prisoner, but he was able to fend them off. Surrounded and stuck with a jammed rifle, Johnson took a bolo knife and began slashing at the Germans. They stabbed and beat him, but he did enough damage to save him and his comrade’s life and was assisted by fellow soldiers who came to their aid an hour after the melee began.
    Johnson and Roberts suffered several wounds; Johnson had 21 wounds and fainted from his injuries en route to a French hospital. Army officials inspected the site of the clash the next morning and found four German soldiers dead and a large cache of weapons. It was said that there may have been more dead soldiers there, and it appeared that many as 32 Germans stormed the post’s fences.
    Johnson was a short, slight man of five feet, four inches, weighing 130 pounds. With a humility that matched his diminutive stature, Johnson did not chase accolades or approval. “There wasn’t anything so fine about it,” he said later. “Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done that.”
    Johnson’s fame and notoriety grew and his troop was dubbed “the Harlem Hell-Fighters” by the French press. France also awarded Johnson with its highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre for his efforts. Although the 369th was met with a parade February 1919 in celebration of their bravery, Johnson was largely unrecognized. Long after his passing in 1929, Johnson’s son, Herman, led an effort to see his father be awarded with the Medal Of Honor.
    READ MORE: http://newsone.com/2452936/henry-l-johnson/
     
  2. butterfly#1

    butterfly#1 going above and beyond PREMIUM MEMBER

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    I bet there's so many stories like this that has yet to
    be uncovered. Thanks for sharing Misinterpret.

    One love
    Butterfly#1
     
  3. Clyde C Coger Jr

    Clyde C Coger Jr going above and beyond PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Thanks for sharing this MisInterpret,


    There seems to be a parallel with Johnson and Ramsey, both don't consider themselves heroes:

    Johnson was a short, slight man of five feet, four inches, weighing 130 pounds. With a humility that matched his diminutive stature, Johnson did not chase accolades or approval. “There wasn’t anything so fine about it,” he said later. “Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done that.”

    Johnson’s fame and notoriety grew and his troop was dubbed “the Harlem Hell-Fighters” by the French press. France also awarded Johnson with its highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre for his efforts. Although the 369th was met with a parade February 1919 in celebration of their bravery, Johnson was largely unrecognized. Long after his passing in 1929, Johnson’s son, Herman, led an effort to see his father be awarded with the Medal Of Honor.
    *taken from same source

    Neither men, Henry or Charles considers themselves as a hero worthy of honor and praise. What are your thoughts on how they view themselves? I'm curious:)



    Peace In,
     
  4. MsInterpret

    MsInterpret Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    It was survival for them...I don't believe they were thinking about all the praise and glory that they were going to get.

    Just like you pointed out, he said "he just fought for his life." The act that he did was heroic or brave, but it wasn't about that.

    I don't believe people can be a hero without humility. Which is what they have.

    In wars, you aren't just fighting to win...You're more so fighting for your life, fighting to come back home.

    The primal instinct kicks in, adrenaline kicks in, and what it comes down to is what your willing to do just to get the heck outta dodge.

    Johnson could have easily save himself and left behind his troop, which also shows that he is not only humble, but a selfless man..which I'm sure goes deeper then survival. He was more then likely a self less man at home.

    Like butterfly#1 said, there are probably, and without a doubt, more stories like this. It's just people out here are so humble that they keep this kind of story to themselves in their heart...they don't need bragging rights or for the world to know that they are a "hero"...they just feel that they were doing what they had to do. And that was to just fight to live.
     
  5. butterfly#1

    butterfly#1 going above and beyond PREMIUM MEMBER

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    My opinion is that as a race,we're very humble. We
    don't see our works as being anything special. We, on a whole, feel we're more in the supporting role rather
    than a starring role. We feel that it's our job to do what needs to be done without accolades.
     
  6. MsInterpret

    MsInterpret Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    I have to disagree with this statement.
    As individuals, some if not most of us, could be considered "humble".
    There are black people in this world who are not humble people.
    Put oneself in a situation, (black, white, yellow, red, whatever) where your life is on the line like in this story or in any other similar story, one's true self is revealed. One could say, "Well if I was in this situation I would do this..."...No one really knows until that situation arises.

    And after that comes the real test of who one is....Fame and notoriety...
    Most heroes don't tell their story, it's usually the victim, the one who got save, or the witness that saw it, tells it. Then the hero becomes famous for what he/she has done....then it's how they handle it.

    For example, do they tell all the press about what happened, and repeat the story over and over again, to make sure everyone knows who they are?
    "Did I ever tell you about the time where I.....?"

    Some people want to be recognized, especially if they have not been recognized for anything else in their life.

    The human ego is much more prevalent and can overshadow humility in a second, once fame is involved.

    For example....Charles Ramsey...That man is on every tv news outlet....From Local News to Anderson Cooper.

    Did he have to be on all the press? No. He chose to be...and with that he's getting paid for these interviews...so now its not about heroism, but fame and money....
     
  7. butterfly#1

    butterfly#1 going above and beyond PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Of course there are quite a number of individuals who
    want recognition for their works. I totally agree with you about that. I am speaking on the whole as a race.
     
  8. MsInterpret

    MsInterpret Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Again...I disagree.
     
  9. butterfly#1

    butterfly#1 going above and beyond PREMIUM MEMBER

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    That's fine, to each his own.
     
  10. Clyde C Coger Jr

    Clyde C Coger Jr going above and beyond PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Thanks, you certainly gave me what I asked for, and more...

    We definitely touch and agree on humility and humbleness as key cornerstones that keep pride from getting in the why; yup! And also, it is a matter of survival and doing what you have to do, at the moment... Nonetheless, the general public will bestow upon the individual the label hero. Seems to happen that way every time. I know of only a few ego-pride driven folk that will accept the label and called themselves heroes, very few.


    Peace In,


     
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