Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The "Black Death": Story of True Hero

While researching the life and military service of Henry Johnson, I came across an interesting article in the Hutchinson News, on page 3 of the 14 August 1918 edition. Though race relations in our country are far from perfect, we’ve come a long way from 1918 when this article was acceptable.

A reporter was writing to his aunt and uncle and related a story about Henry Johnson as he heard it in the field headquarters of the Army press section. He wrote most it as a play:

Page 3 of the Hutchinson News, 14 Aug 1918


Corporal Rush Norwood Sends Story of Henry Johnson


Who, With Pardner, Accounted for 24 Germans in Hand to Hand Fight

Corporal J. Rush Norwood, who enlisted from his hometown of Slyvia, is now with the Press Section of the American Expeditionary Forces and in a letter to his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Howard Waddlee, he encloses the story written telling of the experiences of two dusky heroes on the firing line. The story written as it was related in the office and the army field clerk and Norwood got it together to send home. Norwood's company is now over in France. He recently saw his brother, Alan, who is in the hospital corps and Alan was wearing his gold stripe denoting six months of foreign service.

A Colored Doughboy's Feat

I am going to attempt to give you the benefit of one of my recent experiences provided me here at the Field headquarters by Henry Johnson, a colored doughboy, who with Robert Robinson, also colored, both of New York, received both French and American war crosses for their heroic action in the Argonne Region some few weeks ago. They were outpost sentries and were attacked by a large German patrol. The two U. S. fighters held out against the superior number of the enemy hurling grenades, firing guns until ammunition all gone, and used bayonets, automatic pistols and finally bowie (trench knife). Robinson fell wounded and Germans attempted to carry him off as prisoner but Johnson went to his pal's rescue and freed him from captors. Both were rather severely wounded in action which netted them about 18 Hun casualties.

Now the hero of that incident, Corporal Henry Johnson, himself who is convalescing at a nearby Base Hospital, rather unexpectedly dropped in at the Field Headquarters of the Press Section here and very willingly gave a vivid and awesome story of the event. I am to try to offer it to you as I heard it. Quite contrary to the well known newspaper phrase "told his story blushing and stammering as a school girl" Johnson gave a rapid and vivid story inserting all the gestures of the fray.


Corporal Henry Johnson, Albany, N. Y.

"Count Those Dudes Out There"
A one-act, hair-raising, realistic, side-splitting melodrama
(No intermission)

LEADING MAN--Corp. Henry Johnson (costume courteously provided by U. S.)

SCENE--An American outpost in France once sought by the "Huns"

TIME--Present but mostly future (such plays to be extensively developed by future A. E. F. performers)

AUDIENCE--Press Officers and Clerical Personnel, including Yours truly


Corp. Johnson in his khaki uniform, amply ornamented with the highest French and American honors, carrying cane and limping somewhat "but with a sunny Southern smile" as a contrast to his convalescence, strolls into Press Headquarters and now the setting is complete.

"Yessah, ma name's Johnson. Dis is Johnson, what's left of 'im.

"Yah must a read all about Johnson and Robinson, shure ya'll did it was in all the papers.

"Dere's a silver plate right dere (pointing to his left foot) yessir right dere they pushed a bayonet thru ma laig and shot me in de right arm. Day want to send me home, but Ah ain't goin home. Ah gonna stay here till ma company goes home. I'm a good man as any of em. Dose Germans can't fight.

How It All Happened

"Twas a cloudy an rainy night and me and ma pardner was at this here outpost. Bout two in da mornin we see a bunch a Germans comin at us. Ah figured maself as good a man as any of em an I says to ma pardner we're goin to stick right here. He says 'I'm with yah to da end.' So stead of treating to our lines we cut loose grenades and fired way all our ammunition. Roberts was wounded in da laig at de start and fell to de ground still throing de grenades at de Huns. Two of em tried to carry way ma pardner on a stretcher. Ah took ma rifle, a French gun just like dis, and hit a Dude right on de haid and broke the rifle right here.

"Ah went after de Dudes carryin way my pardner. Ah reached reached for ma bowie (trench knife) and hit one feller right in de haid. I pulled it out and bout faced all round and give it to nudder in the guts. I pulled it out an had mo guts and brains in ma hands dan you ever saw.

(NOTE--At this point one of the audience withdrew.)

"Den de lootenant comes runnin in an says 'Johnson's what's happend?'

"I says it's all over, lootenant.

"Ah had 16 automatics and mo stuff piled in front of ma.

"I says 'Go dere an count dose Dudes.'

"The lootenant takes his pocket light and looks over the ground and comes back.

Accounted for 24 Germans

"For heaven's sake, Johnson, there's 24 of em!"

"Yessah and if dey hadn't a got ma pardner here, dey would a been a lot mo.

"The lootenant says 'Johnson are you hurt?'

"Ah says, 'No sah.'

"Yes, you is," he says, 'look, youse all bloody.'

"O," I says, 'dats from de dudes.'

"Yessah, I figured maself as good a man as any of dem and if dey hadn't got ma pardner we'd a cleaned up."

At this point one of the listeners inquired:

"Johnson, where are you from?"

"I'm from Albany, sah."

"I'm from Albany, too," was the reply.

"You ought a know me. I'm Henry Johnson, the boy who used to drive a horse for Hartman's on __________ Street."

This ended the dramatic offering and Mr. Johnson was warmly congratulated by his attentive audience.

Daily as Corporal Johnson strolls the streets of the village on his convalescent limp he is stopped by both French and Americans who congratulate him and inquire as to his heroic deed. He is becoming a popular character about the place and many await the appearance of his partner, Robinson, to see the pair which scored such an extraordinary win against heavy German odds.

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