By Anthony R. Mayne (Fort Carson)May 28, 2015
FORT CARSON, Colo. (May 28, 2015) -- President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor Tuesday to Sgt. William Shemin, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment (Raiders), 4th Infantry Division, and then Pvt. William Henry Johnson, Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, (Harlem Hellfighters), 93rd Division, for their actions during World War I.
Their actions during World War I were previously overlooked for the nation's highest military award for valor. The Medal of Honor will be awarded posthumously. Elsie Shemin-Roth, Shemin's eldest daughter, will accept on her father's behalf and New York National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson will accept on Johnson's behalf.
From Aug. 7-9, 1918, during the Aisne-Marne Offensive in France, Shemin distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. His Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), citation reads:
"For extraordinary heroism in action on the Vesle River, near Bazoches, August 7, 8, 9, 1918. Sergeant Shemin, upon three different occasions, left (cover) and crossed an open space of 150 yards, exposed to heavy machine gun fire to rescue the wounded. After officers and senior noncommissioned officers had become causalities, Sergeant Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire until wounded August 9."
Shemin was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1896. In 1917, he joined the Army during World War I. He was assigned as a rifleman in Company G, 47th Infantry Regiment, which moved from New York to North Carolina, becoming part of the 4th Division. The division was part of the American Expeditionary Forces in France.
The 47th Infantry Regiment was assigned to the 7th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. The regiment took part in four European campaigns during World War I with 40 of its members receiving the DSC.
"With the most utter disregard for his own safety, (Shemin) sprang from his position in his platoon trench, dashed out across the open in full sight of the Germans, who opened and maintained a furious burst of machine gun and rifle fire," said Capt. Rupert Purdon, one of Shemin's supervisors.
Shemin survived that moment with only shrapnel injuries. Later, Shemin was hit in the head with a bullet from a machine gun. This along with his prior injuries saw Shemin hospitalized for three months. He received the DSC and Purple Heart Dec. 29, 1919, for his actions.
Shemin was honorably discharged from the Army in 1919. From there he went to Syracuse University where he played lacrosse and football while earning a degree from the New York State College of Forestry. After graduating, he opened a greenhouse and landscaping business and raised three children with his wife, Bertha. He died in 1973 and was buried in Staten Island, New York.
Johnson posthumously received the Purple Heart in 1996 and the DSC in 2002. His DSC citation reads:
"The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Henry Johnson, Sergeant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action in France during the period 13-15 May 1918. Private Johnson distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.
"While on a double sentry night duty, Private Johnson and a fellow Soldier (Pvt. Needham Roberts) were attacked by a raiding party of Germans numbering almost 20, wounding both. When the Germans were within fighting distance, he opened fire, shooting one of them and seriously wounding two more.
"The Germans continued to advance, and as they were about to be captured Private Johnson drew his bolo knife from his belt and attacked the Germans in a hand-to-hand encounter. Even though having sustained three grenade and shotgun wounds from the start, Private Johnson went to the rescue of his fellow Soldier, who was being taken prisoner by the enemy. He kept on fighting until the Germans were chased away."
Johnson received 21 wounds during the battle and received the Croix de Guerre avec Palme, France's highest award for valor. The French Croix de Guerre or the Legion of Honor was awarded to 171 members of the 369th.
He was the first American to receive this award and was cited by President Theodore Roosevelt as one of the five bravest Americans in World War I, said former New York Governor George Pataki.
Johnson died in 1929 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
More information about Army Medal of Honor recipients is available at http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/.
According to Whitehouse.gov, the Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the armed forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States; engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United Stated is not a belligerent party.
The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.
Editor's note: Information compiled from various Army and government websites.