VCSA's remarks at Medal of Honor Ceremony for Sgt. Shemin and Sgt. Johnson

By VCSAMay 5, 2016

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(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Good morning, and thank you all for joining us as we honor two American Heroes. From this Old Soldier's perspective, honoring these great Americans, despite the long passage of time, strengthens our Army and reflects the enduring commitment of our Nation to those who serve her.

Honoring gallantry in combat is essential to the foundational values upon which our Army and our Republic stand. By reflecting on the great valor of Private Henry Johnson and Sergeant William Shemin, our Soldiers today garner strength to boldly fufill our duty in today's challenging global environment. In the words of Winston Churchill, "Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities, because it is the quality that guarantees all others." And this is as vital today as it has been throughout human history.

In addition to the inspiration drawn from honoring their gallantry, we celebrate today the diversity of our profession . . . an attribute woven into the very fiber of our Nation . . . and a guiding light for all to aspire toward.

Often on our Nation's historic journey, we've fallen short of the lofty ideals of our Constitution. Booker T. Washington, the great Civil Rights leader, reminded us that "There are two ways of exerting one's strength; one is pushing down, the other is pulling up." The men we honor today loved their country and did their duty in an inspiring example of "pulling up" all those around them . . . and their stories exemplify how diversity strengthens our profession.

Private Henry Johnson was a member of the 369th Infantry Regiment, reverently known particularly to our Veterans here today as the Harlem Hellfighters. During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson mandated that the American Expeditionary Force would fight as a national force separate from the European Armies, but made an exception for the colored regiments, and several, including the 369th, were attached to the depleted French Army. And so it was that Private Johnson was the first to be recognized by our French allies with the Croix de Guerre, their highest military award for valor.

His valor went unrecognized by our own country until 2003, 74 years after his death, when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross . . ., and now, finally, we award the Medal of Honor as his actions so valiantly earned on that day.

William Shemin experienced anti-Semitism throughout his life, yet when his platoon found itself in a desperate situation and in need of a leader, all looked to him because of his proven competence and courage to lead. He so loved his country . . . in fact, his entire life he forbade all those living under his roof from criticizing the United States of America. Ever the committed Patriot, he continued to serve his nation for the rest of his life, building a family of great Americans committed to selfless service, so many of whom are with us here today.

While we are not perfect, the United States is a beacon of freedom and equality for the rest of the world, and today, by reaching back and honoring these great Soldiers with their rightful recognition, we recommit ourselves as a profession . . . exemplifying dignity and respect for all who serve. The ability to leverage the diverse gifts of all great Patriots bestowed and endowed with the courage to serve . . . remains our decisive advantage.

Finally, we gain inspiration from these two gallant Soldiers to reinforce our commitment to build Leaders of character for the Nation. Competence, Commitment, and Character are core attributes exemplified by Private Henry Johnson and Sergeant William Shemin in their inspiring acts of gallantry . . . and in the way they served their community after military service.

Henry Johnson, despite his crippling combat injuries, served as an inspiration to the Civil Rights community during his life and for the decades to follow and has been highlighted. President "Teddy" Roosevelt as we all know one of the toughest fighters ever to become the leader of our country called Henry Johnson one of the "five bravest men of WWI," that's pretty high praise. Yet when Henry was asked about the event, he downplayed his contribution; in fact he simply stated that he had just fought for his life . . . like anyone would do . . . sounds like the humility of most heroes I've been blessed to meet throughout my Army service.

William Shemin displayed the 4th Infantry Division Ivy Leaf Insignia at his Greenhouse and Landscape Company for over 40 years, and proudly discussed the values the Army instilled in him with any customer who inquired. He lived those Army values, he managed his business, and raised his family consistent with how he led in the Army in combat. He instilled his love of Country and passion for service in his children. The Shemin Family has honorably served their Nation in the military during the Korean War and in our wars of the past 13 years. Ms. Elsie Shemin-Roth served in medical missions worldwide as a nurse.

And for her service, she's been recognized multiple times including receiving an Honorary Doctorate from Syracuse University. William Shemin's legacy truly lives on in the values and actions of his Family.

So today, we honor the legacy of these great Soldiers by dedicating ourselves to building Soldiers in their likeness . . . Professionals and Leaders of Character protecting our great Nation and all that it stands for -- the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Thank you, God Bless you, and Army Strong!