Black Medal of Honor hero from World War I is subject of new graphic novel

Released today, the novel is part of a series depicting America's Medal of Honor heroes.

Updated: June 30, 2020 - 5:17pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

An African-American war hero is the subject of a graphic novel being released today as part of a series honoring soldiers who received the Medal of Honor.

Army Sergeant Henry Johnson, who fought as part of an all-Black unit during World War I, was the first American to receive a Croix de Guerre with a golden palm, France’s highest award for bravery, and became a national hero back home. He is featured in the novel published June 30 by the Association of the United States Army. 

Richly illustrated in tones of olive green and brown, the graphic tale depicts a young Johnson and another soldier on sentry duty in the trenches of the Western Front in war-torn France on May 15, 1918. They settle in for the night “with nothing between them and the German armed forces but the emptiness of no man’s land.” 

In dramatic frames, Johnson is shown being surprised by 20 seasoned German warfighters. In brutal close combat, Johnson runs out of ammunition, and uses his rifle as a club. When his companion, Pvt. Needham Roberts, is captured, Johnson lunges forward to rescue the man. Using only a bolo knife, Johnson kills the German soldier. Johnson himself is shot, and keeps fighting with his knife until the enemy retreats.

“Each slash meant something, believe me," Johnson later said, according to a New York National Guard writer. "There wasn't anything so fine about it. … Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done that."

A native of South Carolina, Johnson in 1917 joined the New York National Guard, and served with the 369th Infantry Regiment, an African-American unit that became known as the Harlem Hellfighters. A war hero in the United States, he was given a posthumous Medal of Honor in 2015.

The graphic novel featuring Johnson’s story is the latest in the AUSA series depicting combat acts of valor.

“It is great to be able to share the amazing stories of Medal of Honor recipients with this series," AUSA Book Program Director Joseph Craig told Just the News. "Many people know the names of heroes like Alvin York and Audie Murphy, but they can still learn a lot about the details of their lives. It has been especially exciting to highlight figures like Henry Johnson, who were famous in their own day but need an introduction to a new generation of readers.”

Others in the Medal of Honor series are war heroes Alvin York, Roy Benavidez, Audie Murphy, and Sal Giunta.

This year, the series will feature Sen. Daniel Inouye, who pried a grenade from his own severed arm in order to destroy a German machine gun nest in World War II; Dr. Mary Walker, a Civil War surgeon and the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor; and Cpl. Tibor Rubin, a Holocaust concentration camp survivor who spent 30 months as a POW in North Korea.

The graphic novels are available on the Medal of Honor series page.