by Stacy M. Brown
In an effort to address historic racial injustice, a U.S. Army base in western Louisiana has been renamed to honor the heroic legacy of Sgt. William Henry Johnson, an African American soldier who displayed extraordinary bravery during World War I.
Previously, the base bore the name of Leonidas Polk, a Confederate commander.
This renaming is part of the broader efforts within the U.S. military to rectify past injustices, including the renaming of nine Army posts that had previously commemorated Confederate officers.
Brig. Gen. David Garner, the commanding general of the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Johnson, expressed profound honor in bearing the name of Sgt. William Henry Johnson.
Describing Johnson as the epitome of the warrior spirit, Garner made this announcement via a post on Twitter.
The National Museum of the United States Army recounts the awe-inspiring account of Johnson’s bravery on the front lines of France in 1918, where he valiantly repelled a German night raid near the Argonne Forest.
Wounded a staggering 21 times during the intense confrontation, Johnson fearlessly fought off the attacking forces.
Selflessly, he also safeguarded a fellow wounded Black comrade from being taken captive.
Having exhausted his supply of grenades and ammunition, Johnson resorted to using his knife to eliminate two German soldiers.
His relentless and determined assaults shattered the morale of the German troops, ultimately forcing them to retreat.
After surviving the war, President Theodore Roosevelt saluted Johnson’s bravery by naming him one of the five bravest Americans to serve in the conflict.
However, Johnson humbly dismissed the notion of heroism, stating, “There wasn’t anything so fine about it. Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done that.”
Despite his outstanding actions, the Army failed to recognize his courage during his lifetime, denying him a disability allowance and neglecting to award him a Purple Heart.
Nearly a century later, in 2015, Johnson posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The prestigious accolade recognized his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty.
Sadly, Johnson’s war injuries took a toll on his life after his return to Albany, New York.
Struggling with his health, he succumbed to a heart condition at 32 in 1929.
Officials said the ongoing process of renaming Army posts represents a significant milestone, as it is the first time that bases will bear the names of Black soldiers and women.
Fort Bragg in North Carolina became known as Fort Liberty earlier this month, while officials changed Fort Benning in Georgia to Fort Moore.
The original naming process for military bases predominantly involved input from local communities, though it notably excluded the participation of Black residents.
Bases were typically named after soldiers born or raised nearby, regardless of their effectiveness or leadership skills.
Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, for instance, is widely regarded among historians as an inadequate leader who lacked the respect of his troops.
In honoring Johnson, the U.S. Army has taken a significant stride towards rectifying historical racial injustices and acknowledging the immense contributions of African American soldiers to the nation’s defense, military officials said.
They said the move reflects a broader commitment to inclusivity and represents a significant step forward in fostering a more equitable and representative military landscape.
Source: Published without changes from Washington Informer Newspaper