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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

World War I heroes continues to unfold - posthumous honors were sadly overlooked

Although it's always appropriate to award military honors to deserving heroes, the two World War I (that's "one") heroes who were awarded their Medal of Honor medals by President Obama, posthumously, were overlooked during their lifetimes for their heroism, because one was a Negro and the other was Jewish.  
It's a sad tribute because the 100 year delay was inexcusable. Nevertheless, it's also a validation of how America has the capacity to right the error.

Obama honours overlooked WWI heroes

               Henry Johnson (left) and William Shemin (right) posthumously received Medals of Honor

President Barack Obama awarded two deceased World War I army heroes, one black and one Jewish, with the prestigious Medal of Honor for their valor in the European battlefields.

The ceremony at the White House took place nearly 100 years after the two were denied their medals, possibly because of discrimination.

Sgt William Shemin and Pvt Henry Johnson both heroically saved comrades in WWI.

The Medal of Honor is the US's highest military honour.

                           Henry Johnson's heroics are marked by a statue in Albany, New York

"They both risked their lives to save the lives of others," said Mr Obama.

"It's never too late to say thank you. We are grateful that you never gave up."

Shemin, who was Jewish, evaded gunfire to save wounded soldiers.

Johnson, who was serving in an all-black regiment known as the "Harlem Hellfighters", rescued an injured comrade and fought off a German attack by himself.

Advocates for the two men urged Congress to change rules for Medal of Honor recipients that specified the "heroic actions" had to take place within a five-year time frame.

Jewish soldier Shemin's daughter, Elsie Shemin-Roth, accepted the award on her father's behalf.

She had worked for years to garner the documents outlining her father's actions so he could qualify.

Elsie Shemin-Roth received the award on her father's behalf

Ms Shemin-Roth, who is in her 80s, began her campaign after learning about a US law that reviewed cases of Jews denied medals during World War II. She fought for passage of a similar law for Jewish World War I veterans.

Congress last year passed the exemption that would qualify her father, who died in 1973.

"This was anti-Semitism, no question about it," Ms Shemin-Roth said. "Now a wrong has been made right and all is forgiven."

Johnson's supporters had been pushing for the Medal of Honor for decades. The Virginia native died in 1929.

When a collection of military records became available online, including a communique from WWI General John Pershing describing Johnson's actions that night of the German attack, his case gained steam.

New York National Guard Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson accepted the award on Johnson's behalf.

"We have to make sure all of our heroes' stories are told," said Mr Obama.

"America is the country we are today because of people like Henry and William. The least we can do is to say... we know who you are."

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