President Obama awarded two Medals of Honor today during an East Room ceremony at the White House.
Both of the recipients, Army Sergeant William Shemin and Army Private Henry Johnson, were World War One veterans, received the honor posthumously.
“We believe that it’s never too late to say thank you,” Obama said as he began the ceremony. “That’s why were are here this morning.”
Obama personally recognized Johnson, noting that he was an African American who fought under French command because of segregation during the war. He pointed out that although Johnson received France’s highest award for valor, “his own nation didn’t award him any.”
Johnson was recognized for fighting off German soldiers with only a bolo knife after he and his comrade were ambushed.
“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,” he said.
Shemin, a Jew, also never received the Medal of Honor although he had been nominated. He was recognized for braving machine gun fire to rescue his comrades and taking command of his unit under fire.
Obama asserted that no matter how long ago many of these wars were, it was more important than ever to recognize the heroic contributions of the soldiers who fought in them.
“It has taken a long time, for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition they deserve and there are surely others whose heroism is still unacknowledged and uncelebrated,” he said. “So we have work to do as a nation to make sure that all of our heroes stories are told.”