tv White House Medal of Honor Ceremony CSPAN July 3, 2015 9:30pm-10:01pm EDT
of honor is the highest military honor given for valor in combat above and beyond the call of duty. coming up next president obama awards it to two world war i veterans. the president speaks of their acts of courage and bravery on the western front and acknowledges that many brave soldiers were overlooked because of their skin color or their faith. henry johnson was african american. lewis wilson of the new york national guard accepted the medal on behalf of johnson and daughters of william accepted the medal on behalf of their father. >>
>>. >> ladies and gentlemen, the president of the united states. ♪ >> we read in the sacred psalms even were i to walk in the reconvene as death i shall feel no danger. you are at my side. your staff and crook are there to sooth me. let us pray. all powerful ever living lord of all, may you guide this time this gathering as we remain mindful of the cost paid for our liberty.
we gather here in gratitude for the men we recognize today, for their courage, their faithfulness and their selfless service. may the lives of sergeants henry johnson and william shemen remind us the soldiers art, the soldiers spirit, and the soldiers soul are everything. keep us mindful always of these men. of their acts of valor. their witness to the human capacity for good even in the face of the most inhuman conditions of the battlefield. may these soldiers, their acts of heroism continue to form the fabric of our nation's unfielding devotion to protect the dignity of all human. of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. let us take to heart these words
once spoken after battle that it is for us the living. to be dedicated here for the unpinun unfinished work which they who fought so nobly advanced. god of redemption and grace i ask these things in your name, amen. >> good morning, everybody. please be seated. welcome to the white house. nearly 100 years ago a 16-year-old kid from the midwest named frank buckles headed to europe's western front. it carried the wounded to safety. he lived to see our troops ship off to another war in europe and one in korea.
vietnam. iraq. afghanistan. and frank buckles became a quitely powerful advocate for our veterans and remined that way until he passed away four years ago america's last surviving veteran of world war i. on the day frank was laid to rest at arlington national cemetery vice president biden and i went to pay our respects. we weren't alone. americans from across the country came out to express their gratitude as well. different ages different races. some military. some not. most have never met frank but all of them braved a cold winter's day to offer a final tribute with a man with whom they shared a powerful conviction. that no one who serves our country should ever be forgotten. we are a nation a people who
remember our heros. we take seriously our responsibilities to only send them when war is is necessary. we strive to care for them and their families when they come home. we never forget their sacrifice. we believe that it's never too late to say thank you. that's why we're here this morning. today america honors two of their sons near world war i nearly a century ago. these two soldiers were roughly the same age. tropical waved into the battlefields of france at roughly the same time. they both risked their own lives to save the lives of others. they both left us decades ago before we could give them the full recognition they deserved but it's never too late to say thank you.
today we present america's highest military decoration, the medal of honor, to private henry johnson and sergeant william shemen. i want to begin by welcoming and thanking everyone that made this day possible. family friends, admirers. some of you worked four years to honor these heros. to give them the honor they should have received a long time ago. we're grateful that you never gave up. we're appreciative of your efforts. henry johnson joined many other african americans on immigration from the rural south to the industrial north, people in search of a better life. he landed in albany where he mixed sodas at a pharmacy, worked at a coal yard and at a train station. and when the united states
entered world war i henry enlisted. he joined one of only a few units that he could. the all black 369th infantry regimen. and soon he was headed overseas. at the time our military was segregated most black soldiers served in labor battalions and not combat unions but he sent the 369th to fight with the french army which accepted them as their own. quickly the hell fighters lived up to their name and in the early hour of may 15th 1918 henry johnson became a legend. his battalion was in northern france. some slept but he couldn't. another soldiers stood along no man's land. in the predawn it was pitch
black and silent and then a click, the sound of wire cutters. a german raiding party, at least a dozen soldiers, maybe more, fired a hail of bullets. henry fired back until his rifle was empty and then they threw grenades. both of them were hit. he lost consciousness. two enemy soldiers began to carry him away while another provide cover firing at henry but henry refused to let them take his brother in arms. he shoved another magazine into his rifle. it jammed. he turned the gun around and swung it at one of the enemy knocking him down and then grabbed the only weapon he had left, his knife and went to rescue him. henry took down one enemy soldier and then the other. the soldier he knocked down with his rifle recovered and henry was wounded again. but armed with just his knife,
henry took him down too. and finally reinforcements arrived and the last enemy soldier fled. as the sun rose, the scale of what happened became clear. just a few minutes of fighting two americans defeat and entire raiding party and henry johnson saved his fellow soldier from being taken prisoner. henry became one of our most famous soldiers of the war. his picture was printed on recruitment posters and adds for victory war stamps he was one of the bravest men in the war. he road triumphantly in a victory parade. the crowds road for miles cheering this american soldier. henry was one of the first americans to read france's highest award for valor.
but his own nation didn't award him anything. not even the purple heart though he was wounded 21 times. nothing for his bravery though he saved a soldier at risk of himself. his injuries left his cripple. he couldn't find work, his marriage fell apart and in his early 30s he passed away. america can't change what happened to henry johnson. we can't change what happened to too many soldiers like him who went uncelebrated because our nation judged them by the color of their skin and not the content of their character but we can do our best to make it right. in 1996 president clinton awarded henry johnson a purple heart and today 97 years after his extraordinary acts of courage and selflessness i'm proud to award him the medal of
honor. we are honored to be joined today by some very special guests. veterans of henry's regiment. the 369th. thank you to each of you for your service and i would ask lewis wilson of the new york national guard to come forward and accept this medal on private johnson's behalf. [ applause ] [ applause ] >> the president of the united states of america authorized by act of congress march 3rd 1863 has awarded in the name of congress the medal of honor to private henry johnson united states army.
private henry johnson had extraordinary acts of heroism above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a member of company c 369th infantry on may 15th 1918 during combat operations against the enemy on the front lines of the western front in france. in the early morning hours private johnson and another soldier were on century duty at a forward out post when they received a surprise attack from a german raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers. while under intense enemy fire private johnson had a brave retaliation resulting in several causalities. when his fellow soldier was badly wounded, private johnson exposed himself to grave danger by engaging with the two captors in hand to hand combat. wealding only a knife and
gravely wounded himself private johnson continued fighting rescuing the wounded soldier. displaying great courage he continued to hold back the larger enemy force until the defeated enemy retreated leaving behind a large cash of equipment and providing valuable intelligence. without quick actioned and continued fighting even in the face of almost certain death the enemy might have succeeded in capturing prisoners and the outpost without abandoning valuable sbel swrensintelligence. it is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, company c, 369th infantry regiment and the united states army. [ applause ]
semiprobaseball. so when america entered the war and posters asked if he was tough enough, there was no question about it. he was going to serve. young enlist and no problem. he puffed his chest and lied about his age. that's how he joined the 47th infantry regiment and shipped out for france. 1918 on the western front the enemies were down in one trench and germans in another separated by 150 yards of open space. just a football field and a half but that open space was a blood bath. soldier after soldier ventured out and soldier after soldier was mowed down. so those still in the trenches were left with a terrible choice. die trying to rescue your fellow
soldier or watch him die knowing that part of you will die along with him. william couldn't stand to watch. he ran out into the hell of no man's land and dragged a wounded come rat to safety and then he did it again and again. three times he raced through heavy machine gunfire. three times he carried his fellow soldiers to safety. the battle stretched on for days. eventually the platoon's leadership broke down. too many officers had become causalities to william stepped up and took command. he reorganized the depleted squads. every time there was a lull in combat, he lead rescues of the wounded. as a lieutenant later described it william was cool, calm, intelligent and personally utterly fearless. a young kid who lied about his
age grew up fast in war. and he received accolades for his valor including the distinguished service cross. when he came home william went to school for forestry and began a nursery business in the bronx. it was hard work. lots of physical labor like he liked it. he married a red head blue eyed woman and they had three children that gave them 14 grand children. he bought a house upstate where the grand kids spent their summers swimming and riding horses. he taught them how to salute. he taught them the correct way to raise the flag every morning and lower and fold it every night. taught them how to be americans. he stayed in touch with his fellow veterans too and when world war ii came he went and talked to the army about signing up again. by then his war injuries had given him terrible limp but he treated that limp like he
treated his age all those years ago. pay no attention to that he said. he knew how to build roads. he knew camouflage. maybe there was a place for him in this war too. to bertha's great relief the army said the best thing he could do for his country was to keep running his business and take care of his family. his daughter who is here today with what seems like a platoon of shemens was a -- has a theory about what drove her father to serve. he was the son of russian immigrants and he was devoted to his jewish faith. his family lived through it and saw towns destroyed and children killed and then they came to america and here they found a haven, a home, success, and my father and sister both went to college. all of that in one generation.
that's what america meant to him and that's why he would do anything for this country. well elsie as much as america went to your father he means even more to america. takes our nation. it takes our nation too long sometimes to say so because he served at a time when the contributions and heroism of jewish americans in uniform were too often overlooked but he saved american lives. he represented our nation with honor and so it is my privilege on behalf of the american people to make this right and finally award the medal of honor to sergeant william shemen. i want to invite his daughters. 86 and 83 and gorgeous to accept this medal on their father's behalf. [ applause ]
>> the president of the united states of america, authorized by act of congress march 3, 1863, as awarded the metal of honor to sergeant william shemin, united states army. he distinguished himself by the rick of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifleman. in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy in france from august 7th
to august 9th. sergeant shellen upon three different occasions exposed himself to rifle fire to rescue wounded. after officers and senior noncommissioned officers had become casualties he took command of the platoon. sergeant shemin's extraordinary her rowism reflect credit upon himself with g company, 47th infantry, fourth division. and the united states army.
. >> way to go els. [ laughter ] >> well it has taken a long time for henry johnson and william shemin to receive the recognition they deserve, and there are surely others who is still unacknowledged and uncelebrated so we have work to do as a nation to make sure that all of our hero's stories are told, and we'll keep at it no matter how long it takes. america's the country we are today because of people like henry and william. americans who signed up to serve and rose to meet their responsibilities. and then went beyond. the least we can do is to say we know who you are. we know what you did for us.
we are forever grateful. and god bless the fallen of all of wars. may we watch over our veterans and their families and all those who serve today. may god bless the united states of america. with that i'd asked the chaplain to return to the podium for benediction. >> lord of all, as we go forward today, we ask you to instill within us your peace your courage, your strength. lead us to all that is good and brings honor to your creation. help us to defeat the evils we face each day. bless us with the wisdom to celebrate and recognize our capacity for good, to free the
oppressed. let us serve all with valor as these men have shown and witnessed to us today. be upon us now and remain with us, always amen. >> amen. >> with that, we conclude the formal ceremony but i welcome everybody to join in a wonderful reception and let's give our medal of honor winners one big round of applause. [ applause ] mr. foreman, [ applause ]
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was seriously injured. the gun wielders and two. having perpetrated a criminal outrage almost unique in america's history. >> it was one of the most violent acts that ever occurred in the chamber. and there were debates right after this saying we can't let this happen again. we need to wall off the visitor's gallery with bullet proof glass so this could never happen again and the more the members talked about that and thought about it, they said that's a bad idea. this is the people's house and the people can't be walled off from the floor and from what's going on there. >> the capitol building is a symbol and that makes it a target. they mentioned the british burned the building in 1814. there was a bombing during world war i but a professor who was opposed to american support for the allies. there was the shooting in 1954. what happened in 1971 was a bomb
set off by the weather underground opposed to the vietnam war. in the 1983 there was another bombing by a group opposed to president reagan's foreign policy. in 1998 there were two capitol policemen shot and killed at the capitol. there have been instances over time and, yet, the capitol has remained a remarkably open building. >> two historians on the history of the house and senate. the leaders, character characters and events. sunday night at 8 eastern and pacific on c-span's q and a. >> called her the mother of the rej meant opposing slavery he influences her husband to switch from the whig party to the anti-slavery republican party. as first lady she hosted the
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