Medal of Honor for America's Black War Heroes

In 1986, African-American military historian Leroy Ramsey contacted Joe DioGuardi when Joe
was a member of Congress and raised the disturbing fact that, of the 549 Medals of Honor—our
nation’s highest military honor—awarded during World Wars I and II, none had been awarded to
the 1,550,000 black soldiers who had served in racially segregated divisions of our nation's
Armed Forces. Dr. Ramsey’s meticulous research concluded that World War I Pvt. Henry
Johnson of Albany, New York, was a decorated war hero (serving in France with the Black
369th Infantry Regiment called the Harlem Hellfighters), and should have received the Medal of
Honor, as originally recommended by his commanding officer. (Sadly, Johnson died in 1929, a
decade after his military service, homeless and penniless on the streets of Washington, while
looking for a pension.)

In order to make the effort bipartisan, Joe DioGuardi persuaded Texas Rep. Mickey Leland, a
Democrat and the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, to join him in supporting Ramsey's
long campaign for racial justice in the Armed Forces.  And while Leland agreed to help, he
added Petty Officer 3rd Class Dorie Miller from Texas, who served in World War II, to our quest
to open the statute of limitations in order to obtain Medals of Honor for both men. (Leland died
tragically in 1989 on a Congressional humanitarian mission to Ethiopia, and I continued what
would become a 30-year mission to obtain Medals of Honor for African-American war heroes.)

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Leland and DioGuardi pushed for an independent study that was eventually authorized by the
Defense Department, through a grant to Shaw University in North Carolina, to determine why
dozens of African- American soldiers who were recommended for Medals of Honor did not
receive them.  Before the study formally commenced, the Army stumbled upon a “misplaced
file” that showed that Cpl. Freddie Stowers of South Carolina had been recommended for the
Medal of Honor for his heroism in World War I, but since the file showed that no action had
been taken to deny the medal, it was not legally necessary to open the statute of limitations. 
Accordingly, the Defense Department revived the Stowers case in November 1990.

On April 24, 1991, with Defense Department support, President George H. W. Bush presented
the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to the two surviving sisters of Cpl. Stowers, with DioGuardi
present at the ceremony in the White House.  (Stowers thus became the first black soldier from
either World War to be awarded the Medal of Honor.)

Since 1991, eight more African American soldiers from World Wars I and II have been awarded
the Medal of Honor, including Pvt. Johnson, who was awarded the Medal posthumously by
President Barack Obama on June 2, 2015. While this was again the result of DioGuardi’s
continuing effort for military and racial justice, this time Joe’s friend and New York colleague
Sen. Charles E. Schumer did the immense research needed to resubmit Johnson's case for the
medal, and Schumer and DioGuardi attended the White House ceremony in June 2015

DioGuardi is still working on the case of Petty Officer Miller, not only to correct a historicinjustice, but also to memorialize the work of his late colleague Mickey Leland. DioGuardihopes that members of Congress and the Defense Department will support this cause. We shouldnot forget the words sometimes attributed to Pericles, a great military leader (circa 450 BCE)who said at a funeral for a fallen military hero, "Shame on the nation that has no military heroes,but much more shame on the nation that has heroes and does not honor them."

Click to View the Medal of Honor Booklet