Obama Posthumously Awards Jewish, Black WWI Heroes

Ina Bass gives a thumbs up as her sister Elsie Shemin-Roth accepts the Medal of Honor from President Obama on behalf of their father, Army Sergeant William Shemin. Reuters

US President Barack Obama posthumously awarded black and Jewish World War I veterans medals of honor Tuesday, saying it was "never too late to say thank you" after decades of muted acknowledgement of their heroism.

Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to William Shemin, who as a Jewish youngster lied about his age to enlist, reports AFP.

On August 7th, 1918, Shemin found himself in a trench with German soldiers in another, just shouting distance away.

"That open space was a bloodbath," said Obama. "Soldier after soldier ventured out and soldier after soldier was mowed down."

Shemin is credited with running into the machine gun fire in a no man's land three times to retrieve fallen comrades.

Obama told Shemin's daughter Elsie, who was present in the East Room of the White House, "as much as America meant to your father, he means even more to America."

"(It) takes our nation too long sometimes to say so, because Sergeant Shemin served at a time when the contributions in heroism of Jewish Americans in uniform were too often overlooked."

"But William Shemin saved American lives. He represented our nation with honor."

U.S. Army Sgts.Henry Johnson (L) and William Shemin (R). U.S. Army/Handout via Reuters

Also receiving America's highest military honor was an African-American soldier called Henry Johnson, who repelled an 12-strong armed German raiding party using only a bolo knife, and despite being gravely wounded, reports AFP.

The White House ceremony honored the memory of the private, who suffered 21 wounds and died, penniless and an alcoholic, a decade after events on the Western Front on May 15, 1918.

At five feet, four inches (163 centimeters) tall Johnson was slight. But evoking the blood-drenched trenches of wartime France, Obama cast him as a giant of a man.

After the click-click of the Reich's 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," Obama said recounting Johnson's story.

When raiders carried away Johnson's unconscious comrade Needham Roberts, he used the rifle as a club, knocking one German down, then grabbed a knife and set about repelling the rest. Eventually they all fled.

"As the sun rose, the scale of what happened became clear," Obama said. "In just a few minutes of fighting, two Americans had defeated an entire raiding party, and Henry Johnson saved his fellow soldier from being taken prisoner."

Until Bill Clinton awarded Johnson a Purple Heart in 1996, his valor was not recognized.

"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."

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/196216

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