Family who spent decades fighting for their grandfather to get Medal of Honor learns they are not related

By ASSOCIATED PRESS and DAILYMAIL.COM REPORTER

President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor on Tuesday to two World War I Army soldiers who may have been denied the top military honor in the past due to discrimination, including African-American soldier Pvt Henry Johnson.

It was a beautiful moment for Tara Johnson, who had spent years fighting for her grandfather to be recognized for his service.

Then, two days before the ceremony, she learned that Pvt Johnson was not in fact her grandfather.

‘Dad’s birth certificate didn’t have Henry on it,’ said Tara.

‘All we have ever known is Henry Lincoln Johnson. My family is going through an identity crisis; this shocked our foundation.’

That did not matter to Tara on Tuesday though, who said; ‘The highlight for me was hearing the commander in chief telling Henry Johnson’s battle story. It was breathtaking.’

Johnson supporters pushed son hard for the Medal of Honor that New York Senator Chuck Schumer took up the case.

‘Tara’s been great,’ said Schumer, who helped find the records which got Pvt Johnson his Medal of Honor.

Schumer was initially rebuffed in his attempts due to the lack of documentation, but his staff picked up the case again years later when a trove of military records became available online.

This included a communique from Gen John Pershing describing Johnson’s brave acts after coming under attack by at least 12 German soldiers while on night sentry duty on May 15, 1918.

‘While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation resulting in several enemy casualties,’ the White House said in a statement.

‘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.’

New York National Guard Command Sgt Maj Louis Wilson accepted the medal on Johnson’s behalf.

And Pvt Henry Johnson rescued a wounded comrade from his all-black regiment while single-handedly fighting off a surprise German attack.

The award comes after tireless efforts by advocates for the two men led Congress to pass an exemption from Medal of Honor rules specifying that heroic actions have to have taken place within five years to be considered.

Sgt William Shemin, a Jewish serviceman, was the other posthumous recipient.

‘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,’ Obama said, adding that there is still work to do to ensure that the stories of all heroes are told.

‘The least we can do is to say we know who you are, we know what you did for us, we are forever grateful,’ he added.

Johnson supporters pushed for the Medal of Honor for decades – with New York Senator Chuck Schumer taking up the case.

He was initially rebuffed for lack of documentation, but his staff picked up the case again years later when a trove of military records became available online.

This included a communique from Gen John Pershing describing Johnson’s brave acts after coming under attack by at least 12 German soldiers while on night sentry duty on May 15, 1918.

‘While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Johnson mounted a brave retaliation resulting in several enemy casualties,’ the White House said in a statement.

‘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.’

Johnson, who worked as a train station porter in Albany, enlisted in the 369th, a New York National Guard unit based in Manhattan.

The ‘Harlem Hellfighters,’ as the unit became known, served under French command because US armed forces were segregated at the time.

Hobbled by his wartime injuries, Johnson died a destitute alcoholic at age 32 at a veterans hospital in Illinois in 1929.

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