William Henry Johnson

New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs Photo: Henry Johnson’s Triumphant Return to New York

Honor and Justice


William Henry Johnson

Today we bring you a real-life American hero known to be among the toughest of men.  A soldier with remarkable courage and grit.  Ladies, gentlemen, and all good people, I present William Henry Johnson.  A five-foot four-inch, hundred-and-thirty-pound powerhouse.

Troops in France, National Archives Identifier 26431272


Henry Johnson was on the front line in France during World War 1.

One night while guarding a bridge, Johnson and another private, Needham Roberts, fell under attack from a German patrol.

Roberts was quickly injured by an enemy grenade.

Johnson got shot.

He used up all his grenades and rifle rounds defending the bridge. 


Both Americans were wounded. They were out of ammunition and injured, all over. Then Pvt. Johnson took out his knife and he went on offense. He fought fiercely, taking on one German after another until the patrol retreated behind their German line.

The official report stated that Henry Johnson had twenty-one wounds from the skirmish. He had been shot, stabbed, struck with grenade shrapnel, and suffered injuries from hand-to-hand combat. According to the records he eliminated at least four German soldiers and injured several others while protecting Private Roberts and holding the French line.


Needham Roberts and William Henry Johnson were awarded the Croix du Guerre, which is the highest honor of the French military.

President Roosevelt later wrote that Henry Johnson was one of the bravest American soldiers in the war.

He may well have been one of the bravest soldiers in any war…


New York Public Library Photo:

Henry Johnson, 1918

Several decades later the United States awarded Johnson with the purple heart, the distinguished service cross, and eventually the medal of honor (by President Obama). In 2023 Fort Polk was renamed Fort Johnson, in Henry’s honor.

William Henry Johnson exhibited tremendous courage and ruggedness in the 1918 defense of the Western Front. He is an army legend and a true American hero.

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