June 2, 2015

Speaker Heastie Recognizes Medal of Honor Recipients

Our soldiers and veterans - those brave men and women who selflessly fight for and protect the ideals upon which this country was founded - have long paved the path for our nation's progress. At a time when our society did not recognize the rights of so many marginalized groups, Sgts. William Shemin and Henry Johnson bravely fought for their country during World War I. I applaud the President for recognizing the heroism of these two men and posthumously awarding them the Medal of Honor.

Sergeant William Shemin, born in Bayonne, NJ, was so determined to serve that he lied about his age in order to enlist. As a rifleman, Sgt. Shemin left his platoon's trench and crossed the open space of the battlefield three times, exposing himself and risking his life in order to drag his fellow soldiers to safety.

Sergeant Henry Johnson served with the 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the 'Harlem Hellfighters,' which was the first African-American unit to see combat. After receiving a surprise attack from a German raiding party, Sgt. Johnson - then still a private - mounted a retaliation effort with a fellow soldier. When his fellow soldier became wounded, Johnson not only prevented him from being taken prisoner, he held off German forces and forced them to retreat despite his own injuries.

Both of these men showed exceptional heroism on behalf of their country, yet neither received their just recognition at the time due to prevailing anti-Semitism and racism. As we continue to fight discrimination, it is only fitting that we recognize the tremendous contributions of these two brave men. The Assembly is adopting resolutions to honor both of these remarkable men, their courage in the face of great danger and their immense sacrifices. These two men epitomize what it means to not only be proud of our nation, but to continue the fight to make it better.