Sunday, June 28, 2015

Touch the Names of Those Who Never Came Home


By Jerry Cianciolo

World War II memorials-who notices them anymore They blend into the background like telephone poles.

Chances are your community has a tribute to local men and women who served but it’s
likely you’ve never stopped to visit. Those who fought the Axis powers are out of mind now. “ In three words I can sum up everything  I have learned about life,” said Robert Frost. “It goes on.”
Still, it’s unbefitting that as we pass their chiseled names we fail to acknowledge these patriots for even an instant-especially on Memorial Day 2015, the 70th year after the end of World War II. From high- school history, were all familiar with the vast number. More than 400,000 Americans were killed during the war. Another were maimed or wounded.

They came from nearly every city and town.  And they fell by the tens of thousands at Luzon, Normandy, Anzio, Guadalcanal and Okinawa.“Deeply regret to inform you that your son Sgt.John S-lost his life on March 5th 1943, as a result of aircraft accident. Letter follows. Please accept my profound sympathy.”

Mothers and fathers receiving a telegram like that felt they couldn’t go on-but they did.
The remains of many loved ones were never returned home. Instead they were laid to rest at cemeteries in Manila, Normandy, Luxembourg and elsewhere.

It wasn’t long after V-E and V-J Days in 1945 that thousands of tributes sprang –up in bronze plaques, streaming fountains and granite obelisks. But seven decades have passed since commemorations of these memorials and to most of us now their simply the flag-festooned backdrop for long parades and political speeches in late May and early July.

When the occasion calls for it, we solemnly remove our hats and pay homage to the “ultimate sacrifice” these country-men.  That is a hollow abstraction until put in everyday terms.
Many young combatants who, as the English poet Laurance Binyon wrote, “fell with their faces to the foes” never set foot on campus.  They never straighten a tie and headed to a first real job. They never slipped a ring on a sweetheart’s finger.They never swelled with hope turning the key to a starter home. They never nestled an infant against a bare chest.  They never roughhoused in living room with an exasperated wife looking on. They never tiptoed to layout Santa’s toys.  They  never dabbed a tear while walking their princess down the aisle. They never toasted their son’s promotion. They never rekindled their love as empty nesters.They never heard a new generation cry out, “I love you grand pa.” A lifetime of big and little moments never happened because of a bullet to the body one day in far-off land. For those who crumpled to the ground, the tapestry of life was left unknit. Early on after the war we bowed our heads on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Their loss was raw then. But as years have passed all that’s left are memorials know one notices-rolling credit we ignore as we go about our lives.

But on Memorial Day, we can make a different choice. A moment’s reflection is all it takes to realize that every name on your town’s monument was a real person. One who bicycled the same streets as you, who sleepily delivered the morning Gazette, who was kept after school for cutting up, who sneaked a smoke out back, in the dog days of summer.With just a little imagination, it’s easy to picture yourself as one of those fresh faced-youngsters only you’ve been blessed with a additional 15,000 or 20,000 mornings, afternoons and evenings of life, and a warehouse  of experiences they were denied.

It’s some consolation that a majestic memorial to those who fought the good fight now stands in Washington. But most of us don’t visit the capital often. There’s simpler, more personal way we can show our gratitude to those whose lives were cut short. On Memorial Day with your smart phone turned off-pay a visit to your local monument. Quietly stand before the honor roll of the dead, whisper a word of thanks, and gently rub your finger across their name. The touch would be comforting.

Jerry Cianciolo chief editor at Emerson & Church, Publishers in Medfield, Mass.
Reach him at jerrycianciolo@gmail.com. 
This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal on May 22, 2015.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hershel W. Williams, hero of Iwo Jima, Medal of Honor recipient, Honored at Ohio Veterans Park


Published on Jun 15, 2015
Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Woody Williams was the featured speaker at the Ohio Veterans Memorial Park Monday when the Medal of Honor memorial was unveiled.

View VIDEO      Video - Akron Ohio Daily Record
                               provided to Medal of Honor News
                               by Medal of Honor Society

Hershel W. Williams Medal of Honor Citation

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as demolition sergeant serving with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 23 February 1945. Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands, Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by 4 riflemen, he fought desperately for 4 hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flamethrowers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out 1 position after another. On 1 occasion, he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants and silencing the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon. His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective. Cpl. Williams' aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Remarks by the President at White House Presentation of the Medal of Honor

11:27 A.M. EDT    (Click here to see Video of Presentation)

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Please be seated.

Welcome to the White House.

Nearly 100 years ago, a 16-year-old kid from the Midwest named Frank Buckles headed to Europe’s Western Front.  An ambulance driver, he carried the wounded to safety.  He lived to see our troops ship off to another war in Europe.  And one in Korea.  Vietnam.  Iraq.  Afghanistan.  And Frank Buckles became a quietly powerful advocate for our veterans, and remained that way until he passed away four years ago -- America’s last surviving veteran of World War I.

On the day Frank was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Vice President Biden and I went to pay our respects.  And we weren’t alone.  Americans from across the country came out to express their gratitude as well.  They were of different ages, different races, some military, some not.  Most had never met Frank.  But all of them braved a cold winter’s day to offer a final tribute to a man with whom they shared a powerful conviction -- that no one who serves our country should ever be forgotten.

We are a nation -- a people -- who remember our heroes.  We take seriously our responsibility to only send them when war is necessary.  We strive to care for them and their families when they come home.  We never forget their sacrifice.  And we believe that it’s never too late to say thank you. That’s why we’re here this morning.

Today, America honors two of her sons who served in World War I, nearly a century ago.  These two soldiers were roughly the same age, dropped into the battlefields of France at roughly the same time. They both risked their own lives to save the lives of others.  They both left us decades ago, before we could give them the full recognition that they deserved.  But it’s never too late to say thank you. Today, we present America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to Private Henry Johnson and Sergeant William Shemin.



 
I want to begin by welcoming and thanking everyone who made this day possible -- family, friends, admirers. Some of you have worked for years to honor these heroes, to give them the honor they should have received a long time ago.  We are grateful that you never gave up. We are appreciative of your efforts.

As a young man, Henry Johnson joined millions of other African-Americans on the Great Migration from the rural South to the industrial North -- a people in search of a better life. He landed in Albany, where he mixed sodas at a pharmacy, worked in a coal yard and as a porter at a train station.  And
when the United States entered World War I, Henry enlisted.  He joined one of only a few units that he could: the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment. The Harlem Hellfighters.  And soon, he was headed overseas.

At the time, our military was segregated.  Most black soldiers served in labor battalions, not combat units. But General Pershing sent the 369th to fight with the French Army, which accepted them as their own.  Quickly, the Hellfighters lived up to their name.  And in the early hours of May 15, 1918, Henry Johnson became a legend.

His battalion was in Northern France, tucked into a trench. Some slept -- but he couldn’t. Henry and another soldier, Needham Roberts, stood sentry along No Man’s Land.  In the pre-dawn, it was pitch black, and silent.  And then -- a click -- the sound of wire cutters.

A German raiding party -- at least a dozen soldiers, maybe more -- fired a hail of bullets. Henry fired back until his rifle was empty. Then he and Needham threw grenades. Both of them were hit. Needham lost consciousness. Two enemy soldiers began to carry him away while another provided
cover, firing at Henry. But Henry refused to let them take his brother in arms. He shoved another
magazine into his rifle. It jammed. He turned the gun around and swung it at one of the enemy, knocking him down. Then he grabbed the only weapon he had left -- his Bolo knife -- and went to
rescue Needham. Henry took down one enemy soldier, then the other. The soldier he’d knocked down with his rifle recovered, and Henry was wounded again. But armed with just his knife, Henry took him down, too.

And finally, reinforcements arrived and the last enemy soldier fled. As the sun rose, the scale of what happened became clear. In just a few minutes of fighting, two Americans had defeated an entire raiding party. And Henry Johnson saved his fellow soldier from being taken prisoner.

Henry became one of our most famous soldiers of the war. His picture was printed on recruitment
posters and ads for Victory War Stamps. Former President Teddy Roosevelt wrote that he was one of the bravest men in the war. In 1919, Henry rode triumphantly in a victory parade. Crowds lined Fifth Avenue for miles, cheering this American soldier.

Henry was one of the first Americans to receive France’s highest award for valor.  But his own nation didn’t award him anything –- not even the Purple Heart, though he had been wounded 21 times. Nothing for his bravery, though he had saved a fellow solder at great risk to himself.  His injuries left him crippled. He couldn’t find work. His marriage fell apart. And in his early 30s, he passed away.

Now, America can’t change what happened to Henry Johnson.  We can’t change what happened to too many soldiers like him, who went uncelebrated because our nation judged them by the color of
their skin and not the content of their character.  But we can do our best to make it right.  In 1996, President Clinton awarded Henry Johnson a Purple Heart.  And today, 97 years after his extraordinary acts of courage and selflessness, I’m proud to award him the Medal of Honor.

We are honored to be joined today by some very special guests –- veterans of Henry’s regiment, the 369th.  Thank you, to each of you, for your service.  And I would ask Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard to come forward and accept this medal on Private Johnson’s behalf.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America authorized buy Act of Congress,
March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Private Henry Johnson, United States Army.  Private Henry Johnson distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Forces, on May 15, 1918, during combat operations against the enemy on the front lines of the Western Front in France.

In the early morning hours, Private Johnson and another soldier were on sentry duty at a forward
outpost when they received a surprise attack from the German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers.  While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Private Johnson mounted a brave retaliation, resulting in several enemy casualties.  When his fellow soldier was badly wounded and being carried away by the enemy, Private Johnson exposed himself to great danger by advancing from his position to engage the two enemy captors in hand-to-hand combat.  Wielding only a knife and gravely wounded himself, Private Johnson continued fighting, defeating the two captors and rescuing the wounded soldier.  Displaying great courage, he continued to hold back the larger enemy force until the defeated enemy retreated, leaving behind a large cache of weapons and equipment and providing valuable intelligence.

Without Private Johnson’s quick actions and continued fighting, even in the face of almost certain
death, the enemy might have succeeded in capturing prisoners in the outpost and abandoning
valuable intelligence.  Private Johnson’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond
the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
   
(The Medal of Honor is presented.)  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey, William Shemin loved sports -- football,
wrestling, boxing, swimming.  If it required physical and mental toughness, and it made your heart pump, your muscles ache, he was all in.  As a teenager, he even played semi-pro baseball.  So when
America entered the war, and posters asked if he was tough enough, there was no question about it --
he was going to serve.  Too young to enlist?  No problem.  He puffed his chest and lied about his age (Laughter.)  And that’s how William Shemin joined the 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, and shipped out for France.

On August 7th, 1918, on the Western Front, the Allies were hunkered down in one trench, the Germans in another, separated by about 150 yards of open space -- just a football field and a half.  But that open space was a bloodbath.  Soldier after soldier ventured out, and soldier after soldier was mowed down.  So those still in the trenches were left with a terrible choice: die trying to rescue your fellow soldier, or watch him die, knowing that part of you will die along with him.

William Shemin couldn’t stand to watch.  He ran out into the hell of No Man’s Land and dragged a
wounded comrade to safety.  Then he did it again, and again.  Three times he raced through heavy
machine gunfire.  Three times he carried his fellow soldiers to safety.

The battle stretched on for days.  Eventually, the platoon’s leadership broke down.  Too many officers had become casualties. So William stepped up and took command.  He reorganized the depleted squads.  Every time there was a lull in combat, he led rescues of the wounded.  As a lieutenant later described it, William was “cool, calm, intelligent, and personally utterly fearless.” That young kid who lied about his age grew up fast in war.  And he received accolades for his valor, including the Distinguished Service Cross.

When he came home, William went to school for forestry and began a nursery business in the Bronx.  It was hard work, lots of physical labor -- just like he liked it.  He married a red-head, blue-eyed woman named Bertha Schiffer, and they had three children who gave them 14 grandchildren.  He bought a house upstate, where the grandkids spent their summers swimming and riding horses.  He taught them how to salute.  He taught them the correct way to raise the flag every morning and lower and fold it every night.  He taught them how to be Americans.

William stayed in touch with his fellow veterans, too.  And when World War II came, William went and talked to the Army about signing up again.  By then, his war injuries had given him a terrible limp.  But he treated that limp just like he treated his age all those years ago -- pay no attention to that, he said. He knew how to build roads, he knew camouflage -- maybe there was a place for him in this war, too. To Bertha’s great relief, the Army said that the best thing William could do for his country was to keep running his business and take care of his family.  (Laughter.)

His daughter, Elsie -- who’s here today with what seems like a platoon of Shemins -- (laughter) -- has a theory about what drove her father to serve.  He was the son of Russian immigrants, and he was devoted to his Jewish faith.  “His family lived through the pogroms,” she says.  “They saw towns
destroyed and children killed.  And then they came to America.  And here they found a haven -- a home -- success -- and my father and his sister both went to college.  All that, in one generation! That’s what America meant to him.  And that’s why he’d do anything for this country.”

Well, Elsie, as much as America meant to your father, he means even more to America.  It takes our nation too long sometimes to say so -- because Sergeant Shemin served at a time when the
contributions and heroism of Jewish Americans in uniform were too often overlooked.  But William Shemin saved American lives.  He represented our nation with honor.   And so it is my privilege, on behalf of the American people, to make this right and finally award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant William Shemin. I want to invite his daughters -- Elsie and Ina -- 86 and 83, and gorgeous -- (laughter) -- to accept this medal on their father’s behalf.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Sergeant William Shemin,United States Army.



Sergeant William Shemin distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifleman with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy on the Vesle River, near Bazoches, France from August 7th to August 9th, 1918.

Sergeant Shemin upon three different occasions left cover and crossed an open space of 150 yards,
repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue wounded.  After officers and seniors noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Sergeant Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire until wounded on August 9th.

Sergeant Shemin’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, and the United States Army.

(The Medal of Honor is presented.) (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it has taken a long time for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition they deserve.  And there are surely others whose heroism is still unacknowledged and uncelebrated.  So we have work to do, as a nation, to make sure that all of our heroes’ stories are told.  And we’ll keep at it, no matter how long it takes.  America is the country we are today because of
people like Henry and William -- Americans who signed up to serve, and rose to meet their
responsibilities -- and then went beyond.  The least we can do is to say:  We know who you are.  We know what you did for us.  We are forever grateful.

May God bless the fallen of all of our wars.  May He watch over our veterans and their families and all those who serve today.  May God bless the United States of America.

With that, I'd ask the Chaplain to return to the podium for a benediction.

(The benediction is given.)

THE PRESIDENT:  With that, we conclude the formal ceremony.  But I welcome everybody to join in a wonderful reception.  And let’s give our Medal of Honor winners one big round of applause (Applause.)

Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END        
11:48 A.M. EDT

Monday, June 1, 2015

On June 2, 2015, President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Army Sergeant William Shemin and to Army Private Henry Johnson

We will publish the  full transcript of the White House Medal of Honor Ceremony  to be held on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 once it  is released by the White House.  The ceremony can be watched live (time to be announced  on Tuesday morning by the White House) on www.whitehouse.gov/live or on the Pentagon Channel.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Philadelphia VA Hospital renamed after Medal of Honor recipient Michael J. Crescenz

By John Corrigan, Newsworks, May 4, 2015


After a years-long effort by family, fellow soldiers and politicians, the Philadelphia VA Medical Center has officially been renamed in honor of Corporal Michael J. Crescenz, a West Oak Lane native who — after being slain during the Vietnam War — became the city's lone Medal of Honor recipient.


U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and hundreds of military veterans and active-duty servicemen and women were among those who attended the  ceremony outside the facility now known as the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten," said former Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald Castille, who served as master of ceremonies, quoting President Calvin Coolidge. "Today, we remember the bravery of one of our nation's defenders."

Heroic acts

On Nov. 20, 1968, the 19-year-old Crescenz was killed in action while charging multiple North Vietnamese machine-gun bunkers during an ambush.

Crescenz found himself in the middle of an Army unit moving though the jungles of Quang Nam Province, when — all of a sudden — all hell broke loose.

His unit was ambushed by a "large, well-entrenched force of the North Vietnamese Army whose initial burst of fire pinned down the lead squad and killed the two point men," reads an Arlington National Cemetery account of Crescenz's last day.

"Immediately, Cpl. Crescenz left the relative safety of his own position, seized a nearby machine gun and, with complete disregard for his safety, charged 100 meters up a slope toward the enemy's bunkers which he effectively silenced, killing the two occupants of each," it states.

"Undaunted by the withering machine gun fire around him, Cpl. Crescenz courageously moved forward toward a third bunker which he also succeeded in silencing, killing two more of the enemy and momentarily clearing the route of advance for his comrades," it continued.

"I don't think any of us who have not been in those shoes really know what it's like to risk your life for your country and fellow man," said Fattah, who along with Toomey and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, pushed the renaming-focused legislation through the House and Senate.

Crescenz was one of 658 Philadelphians who lost their lives serving in the Vietnam War. President Richard Nixon presented the Medal of Honor to his family on April 7, 1970.

The ceremony

Crescenz's battalion commander, Lt. Gen. Robert (Sam) Wetzel (ret.), told the crowd about what happened that day.

"Michael picked up that machine gun to save his buddies," he said, "and in the course of that action, he saved the life of our doctor."

Crescenz's older brother Charlie, a U.S. Marine who also served in Vietnam, accepted the dedication on behalf of his family.

"I hope that having Michael's name on the hospital will inspire those who work here to have the honor and responsibility to serve our veterans, to give our vets the very best that they have," Charlie said.

A West Oak Lane boy and Cardinal Dougherty garduate, Crescenz enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968.

Toomey recounted a story told to him by another of Michael's brothers, Joe, regarding Michael's penchant for protecting the vulnerable.

"When Michael was a kid, he was walking home one day on West Oak Lane and, as he approached his home, there was a commotion," Toomey said. "Turns out there was a small neighborhood kid who was being bullied by a couple of big kids.

"Michael told the big kids to leave him alone, but they didn't. So Michael decided to deal with the two bullies in his own way. After that, Michael told the small kid 'you won't have to worry about those guys anymore.' And he was right."

The effort

The renaming effort began five years ago when Francis Tacey, a fellow Philadelphian and U.S. Air Force veteran, volunteered at Crescenz's disinterment from Cheltenham Township to Arlington National Cemetery.

Tacey campaigned for the local war hero to be recognized beyond the Medal of Honor.

"For five years, once a week, twice a week, I got a phone call from Tacey telling me we have to get this done," recounted U.S. Rep Bob Brady, who worked with Fattah to introduce the bill for renaming the medical center.

In Dec. 2014, both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives passed the legislation.

"I view today as a new beginning," said hospital director Daniel Hendee. "Our staff will work hard to live up to our new name and be worthy of the legacy left by Coporal Michael J. Crescenz."

This is only the third veterans' medical center in the nation named after a Medal of Honor recipient. Second Lt. Audie L. Murphy (WWII) and Sgt. Alvin C. York (WWI) also share the distinction with centers in Texas and Tennessee.

"I hope that having Michael's name on the hospital will inspire those who work here to have the honor and responsibility to serve our veterans, to give our vets the very best that they have."
--Charlie Crescenz


"I view today as a new beginning. Our staff will work hard to live up to our new name and be worthy of the legacy left by Coporal Michael J. Crescenz."
--Daniel Hendee, director, Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center


This is only the third veterans' medical center in the nation named after a Medal of Honor recipient. Second Lt. Audie L. Murphy (WWII) and Sgt. Alvin C. York (WWI) also share the distinction with centers in Texas and Tennessee.



Medal of Honor Citation




Cpl. Crescenz distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as a rifleman with Company A. In the morning his unit engaged a large, well-entrenched force of the North Vietnamese Army whose initial burst of fire pinned down the lead squad and killed the 2 point men, halting the advance of Company A. Immediately, Cpl. Crescenz left the relative safety of his own position, seized a nearby machine gun and, with complete disregard for his safety, charged 100 meters up a slope toward the enemy's bunkers which he effectively silenced, killing the 2 occupants of each. Undaunted by the withering machine gun fire around him, Cpl. Crescenz courageously moved forward toward a third bunker which he also succeeded in silencing, killing 2 more of the enemy and momentarily clearing the route of advance for his comrades. Suddenly, intense machine gun fire erupted from an unseen, camouflaged bunker. Realizing the danger to his fellow soldiers, Cpl. Crescenz disregarded the barrage of hostile fire directed at him and daringly advanced toward the position. Assaulting with his machine gun, Cpl. Crescenz was within 5 meters of the bunker when he was mortally wounded by the fire from the enemy machine gun. As a direct result of his heroic actions, his company was able to maneuver freely with minimal danger and to complete its mission, defeating the enemy. Cpl. Crescenz's bravery and extraordinary heroism at the cost of his life are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Medal of Honor Recipients to gather at Harvard's Memorial Church in September

By Corydon Ireland, Harvard Staff Writer Harvard Gazette, May 11, 2015

On Friday, three recipients of the nation’s highest military award ― all Vietnam veterans ― toured Harvard’s Memorial Church. They were part of an advance team for the South Carolina-based Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which will hold its annual convention in Boston from Sept. 15 to 20 and include a Harvard venue for the first time. Expected at the convention are about 65 of the 79 living medal recipients.

The church, which was dedicated in 1932 as a memorial to the Harvard students, graduates, and faculty killed during World War I, will host a private event on Sept. 18 honoring recipients who had died in the previous year. “This is the one thing that’s really important” at every convention, said Victoria Kueck, the society’s director of operations.

So far, there have been no deaths in the past year among recipients. “The count is zero,” said 30-year Navy veteran Thomas G. Kelley of Somerville. The remembrance ceremony will take place in any case.

Kelley was awarded the medal for leading a 1969 rescue mission by eight riverine assault craft in Kién Hòa Province, Vietnam. Of the years since, he said, “I picked up the pieces and moved on.”

In addition to the private event in September, organizers hope to schedule a gathering where veterans and the University’s community of active service members can meet the medal winners.

“I’m really excited for the fall,” said Lieutenant Katie E. Burkhart of the Navy Reserve, who watched the tour unfold late Friday morning. She’s a 2016 Master in Public Policy (M.P.P.) candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“We are all so proud of hosting this on campus,” said Thomas Reardon ’68, who served in Vietnam as an Army infantry officer and today is president of the Harvard Veterans Alumni Organization.

About 250 current students are either veterans or are in school while on active duty, he said. About 25 undergraduates are enrolled in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, which was welcomed back to Harvard in 2011 after a hiatus of 40 years.

ROTC member Charlotte “Charley” Falletta ’16 represented the group during the tour.

“It’s incredible humbling,” she said of seeing three Medal of Honor recipients at once. “They’re hard to come by.”

Harvard’s relationship to military service goes well back into the 17th century, starting with the 1636-1638 Pequot War. “Our history is proud and long,” Reardon said. Over centuries of American wars, more than 1,200 Harvard students and graduates have lost their lives.

Aside from the Army and Navy service academies, Harvard has more Medal of Honor recipients ― 18 ― than any other U.S. institution of higher education. That number could grow by one, joked Reardon to Kelley, “If Tom wants to take a couple of courses.”

“I wish I had gone to Harvard,” offered retired Army Colonel Bruce P. Crandall, a Washington state resident who returned from more than 900 combat flying missions in Vietnam with his sense of humor intact. “I went to seven universities before I got a degree.”

Crandall was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2007 for flying repeated evacuation and supply missions in an unarmed helicopter during the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, fictionalized in the 2002 Mel Gibson movie “We Were Soldiers.” Crandall, who was first awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, arrived at Memorial Church with his dog Huey, who napped through the tour while tucked into a blue duffel bag. (The Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters of the Vietnam era were nicknamed “Hueys.”)

With Crandall and Kelley on the church tour was 27-year Army veteran Harold A. Fritz, president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Fritz was awarded the medal for directing the hand-to-hand defense of an armored column in January 1969, while surrounded by the enemy in Binh Long Province, South Vietnam.

A plaque naming all of Harvard’s Medal of Honor recipients, including eight from the Civil War, hangs on the north wall of the church, which now memorializes Harvard’s dead from World War I to Vietnam. The list of dead from World War II alone, 697 names engraved into stone, covers an entire wall, floor to ceiling.

Three of Reardon’s classmates were among the 22 the University lost to Vietnam. The University claims one Medal of Honor recipient from the conflict, Army Staff Sergeant Robert C. Murray, who left Harvard Business School to enlist. He was killed in 1970.

Thomas J. Lyons, chairman of the Boston Congressional Medal of Honor and a member of its convention committee, looked on as the three war heroes toured Memorial Church, then stood together making plans for September.

The society has held its convention in Boston twice before, in 2001 and 2006, he said. Both times the remembrance ceremony took place in Boston’s Old North Church, which played a role in Paul Revere’s midnight ride during the Revolution.

But, said Lyons, why not Memorial Church, a shrine to the dead of so many American wars? It is just a few hundred yards from Cambridge Common, where in 1775 the first American army was mustered. Walking into the solemn space, he said, “just blew me away.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

Pvt. Henry Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin World War I Heroes Awarded The Medal of Honor


The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
May 14, 2015
President Obama to Award the Medal of Honor to Two Heroes of World War I

WASHINGTON, DC – On June 2, 2015, President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Army Sergeant William Shemin and to Army Private Henry Johnson for conspicuous gallantry during World War I.

Sergeant William Shemin will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces.  Sergeant Shemin distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of the Vesle River, Bazoches, France, on August 7-9, 1918.

Sergeant Shemin entered the Army on October 2, 1917. He was assigned as a rifleman to Company G, 47th Infantry Regiment, which moved from Syracuse, New York to Camp Greene, North Carolina, joining the 4th Infantry Division. The Division arrived in France in May, 1918.

While serving as a rifleman from August 7-9, 1918, Sergeant Shemin left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded. After officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties, Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire, until he was wounded, August 9.

Ms. Elsie Shemin-Roth of Webster Grove, Missouri, will join the President at the White House to accept the Medal of Honor on her father’s behalf.

Private Henry Johnson
Private Henry Johnson will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, American Expeditionary Forces. Then-Private Johnson distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of the Tourbe and Aisne Rivers, northwest of Saint Menehoul, France, on May 15, 1918.

Private Johnson entered the Army on June 5, 1917. He was assigned to Company C, 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, an all-black National Guard unit that would later become the 369th Infantry Regiment. The Regiment was ordered into battle in 1918, and Private Johnson and his unit were brigaded with a French Army colonial unit in front-line combat.

While on night sentry duty on May 15, 1918, Private Johnson and a fellow Soldier received a surprise attack by a German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers. While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation resulting in several enemy casualties. When his fellow soldier was badly wounded, Private Johnson prevented him from being taken prisoner by German forces.  Private Johnson exposed himself to grave danger by advancing from his position to engage an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Displaying great courage, Private Johnson held back the enemy force until they retreated.

Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson, New York National Guard, will join the President at the White House to accept the Medal of Honor on Private Johnson’s behalf.


Statement by Senator Charles Schumer (DNY)  on Medal of Honor award to Sgt. Henry Johnson hero of World War 1

Senator Charles Schumer
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that the White House will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to African-American World War I hero and Albany resident, Sergeant Henry Johnson, on June 2, 2015. Schumer has worked tirelessly since 1999 to secure this recognition for Sgt. Johnson. Due to racism and segregation Sgt. Johnson was denied the Medal of honor for his WW I heroics, as his unit, known as the Harlem Hellfighters was forced to serve under French command sue to segregation. Even though Sgt. Johnson received France’s highest military honor for his exploits, he was not so honored by his own nation.

“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 the nation for which he was willing to give his life shamefully failed to recognize his heroics, just because he was a black man. This century-old injustice finally made right will be a profound gesture that will rectify a sad chapter in American history. And our nation will finally say “Thank-you’ to Sergeant Johnson, and the countless other African Americans who put their lives on the line for a nation that failed to treat them with full equality before the law.”

Schumer continued, “It took years of exhaustive research to prove his claim, impassioned advocacy by local historians and by his relations, and legislation passed through both houses of Congress to waive the statute of limitations on his award to get this done, but the effort has finally paid off. It will be one of my proudest accomplishments as Senator to see our country’s highest military honor bestowed upon Henry Johnson.”

Schumer said so many people helped champion this over the years, from John Howe and Tara Johnson, to Congressman Mike McNulty, Congressman Paul Tonko, Congressman Joe Dioguardi, Assemblyman Jack McEneny, Mayors Kathy Sheehan and Jerry Jennings and County Executives Dan McCoy and Mike Breslin, and many more.

Seeing Johnson’s regiment accept the Medal of Honor on his behalf – and knowing that a century-long injustice has finally been righted – will be one of my proudest accomplishments as a Senator,” said Schumer. “I am truly honored to have been able to work on this, and am overjoyed that President Barack Obama and the Department of Defense and Secretary of the Army McHugh recognizes the indelible mark Sgt. Johnson left on America in its time of need. This recognition is a true testament to his sacrifice – and all that is best about our country.”

Schumer’s years of advocacy took new life in 2011 when the Senator Schumer and his staff revealed that they had uncovered game-changing evidence to support the posthumous award of the military’s highest honor to Sgt. Johnson. In May of that year, Schumer submitted a nearly-1300 page request for reconsideration, which included a wealth of never-considered evidence containing the incontestable proof showing that Johnson deserves this award.

Later that year, Schumer launched an online petition in support of Henry Johnson’s heroics during World War I, while uncovering additional evidence in support of Johnson’s candidacy for the Medal. Throughout the course of 2014, Schumer placed multiple calls to the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army urging them to expedite their consideration of the Medal of Honor request, and worked to pass legislation in the Senate and House with Paul Tonko (D-NY) to make Sgt. Johnson waiving the time restriction on receiving the honor and making Sgt. Johnson eligible.

Sergeant Henry Johnson, an African American who was part of the “Harlem Hellfighters” that served under French Command due to segregation, was not properly recognized for gallantry during his lifetime. During World War I, then-private Henry Johnson fought with the French on the Western Front because of discriminatory laws in the United States. On May 14, 1918, Johnson came under attack by a German raider party of approximately 20 men. Despite sustaining numerous gunshot wounds, Johnson fought off an entire German advance, rescued his fellow soldier from certain capture, and acquired a large cache of enemy weapons. Schumer said that Johnson accomplished these actions with little training, a jammed rifle, and a bolo knife against an overwhelming German unit that was well trained during a raid that was carefully planned and meant to capture prisoners. Schumer said that, if not for Johnson’s bravery, with total disregard for his own life, his fellow soldiers would have been captured, a cache of weapons and supplies would not have been acquired by the allies, and valuable intelligence would have gone to the enemy. Johnson, who was permanently disabled after the fight, was issued a communique from General Pershing commending his service, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Gold Palm, one of the highest military honors of France, for his bravery in battle.

Schumer has led the fight to get Sgt. Henry Johnson the recognition he deserves for his bravery and heroism during WWI. Schumer submitted a nearly-1,300 page request to the military in support of Johnson’s receiving the Medal of Honor and launched an online petition to build public support. Schumer held a personal call with U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh, met with Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright – who oversees decisions regarding Medals of Honor – and wrote a letter to Secretary Hagel, all in an effort to secure the Medal of Honor for Sgt. Johnson.

In concert with Sgt. Johnson’s activists, including the late John Howe, a Vietnam veteran, Schumer helped secure the second-highest American military honor for Johnson, the Distinguished Service Cross, in 2003. Schumer has consistently expressed his support for Sgt. Johnson to receive the Medal of Honor:

·        In March 2011, Schumer and his staff revealed that they had uncovered new evidence to support the posthumous award of the military’s highest honor to Sgt. Johnson. In May 2011, Schumer submitted a nearly-1300 page request for reconsideration, which included a wealth of never-considered evidence containing proof showing that Johnson deserves this award.

·        In October 2011, Schumer launched an online petition in support of Henry Johnson’s heroics during World War I, while Schumer uncovered additional evidence in support of Johnson’s candidacy for the Medal.

·        In October 2012 in Albany, Schumer was joined by local veterans and elected officials in unveiling of the national online petition additional evidence, all of which had been discovered by Schumer and his office in the previous two years.  However, Despite these discoveries, the case remained pending. In 2012, Schumer also appeared in an episode of PBS’ History Detectives that featured a painting depicting the Battle of Henry Johnson

·        In March 2013, ahead of the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Henry Johnson, Schumer publicly called on Secretary McHugh to approve his request to honor Johnson with a Medal of Honor. Schumer also made multiple phone calls to McHugh on this subject over the course of 2013 and 2014.

·        In May 2014, following Secretary McHugh’s recommendation that Sgt. Johnson receive the Medal of Honor, Schumer wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urging him to do the same. He also met with Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright, who oversees decisions regarding Medals of Honor, and urged her to consider Johnson’s application.

·        In August 2014, after Schumer had urged the Department of Defense for years to recommend a Medal of Honor for Johnson, Defense Secretary Hagel officially made the recommendation.

·        In September 2014, Schumer announced that his legislation to allow the President to be able to consider the Medal of Honor application for the late World War I hero and Albany resident, Sergeant. Henry Johnson, passed the Senate unanimously.

·        In November 2014, Schumer took an additional approach to secure the Medal of Honor for Sgt. Johnson. Schumer added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to waive the time restrictions on receiving the Medal of Honor and make this recognition for Sgt. Johnson a reality.

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