At 5'4" and 130 pounds, Henry Johnson, a Red Cap train porter, enlisted in the all-black 15th NY National Guard Regiment in 1917. He was shipped out to France to fight in WWI and ended up assigned to menial labor by his U.S. officers. The French welcomed the men of the 15th, (now renamed the 369th Infantry) known now as the "Harlem Hellfighters." One night on sentry duty, Henry and fellow soldier, Needham Roberts, were attacked by a German raiding party. Johnson and Roberts shot back until they were out of bullets, then Henry had (then injured) Roberts hand him grenades to throw, used his rifle as a club until it shattered, and was down to using his bolo knife when backup arrived. He then promptly passed out. In the light of day his feat was evident. Henry had killed 4 Germans and wounded 10-20 more while he had 21 wounds from hand to hand combat. Because of these heroic efforts, the Germans failed to cross over the French line that night. France awarded Johnson and Roberts the Croix du Guerre- their highest military honor. These two men were the 1st American privates to receive it. Johnson and the Harlem Hellfighters returned to New York in a parade to celebrate their bravery and achievements. The nickname "Black Death" was given to Henry and the New York Times said that the Hellfighter's arrival in Harlem "threw the population into hysterics."
Henry Johnson was forgotten by history until fairly recently. He's been awarded (posthumously) the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Medal of Honor. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His son later served with the Tuskegee Airmen.
Young black Red Cap turned war hero
Knicknamed "Black Death"
Fought off a couple dozen Germans
Harlem Hellfighters (not only amazing name, but credited with introducing jazz to European audiences)
1st American to receive Croix du Guerre
Died in obscurity
Son a Tuskegee Airman
Movie??? Yes, please!
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