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  • "Man, you better wake up pretty soon or you might  never wake up,” said Henry Johnson to the soldier  

  • next to him. He had just heard something  rustling in the darkness of the forest.  

  • It was late at night and the wind blowing  through the trees may have been playing  

  • tricks on his senses. But Johnson swore  he heard rustling and a clipping sound,  

  • as if someone was cutting the wire to the  perimeter fence. Johnson forced the man next  

  • to him awake and began lining up grenades  to defend the outpost. That was when enemy  

  • rifles began firing from all around. Johnson  grabbed a grenade, pulled the pin, and threw it.

  • Only a few days prior, he and the rest  of the 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment were  

  • sent to Outpost 20 on the western edge of the  Argonne Forest, in France's Champagne region.  

  • The American forces refused to use the 369th  to their full potential for one reason,  

  • and one reason alone. The soldiers were all  black. The French on the other hand had no  

  • problem accepting help from the all black  regiment. They welcomed the soldiers of the  

  • newly named Harlem Hellfighters to their  ranks. This was the first step that led  

  • to Johnson and his partner Needham Roberts  being surrounded by an enemy German squad.

  • They had been assigned sentry duty on the night  of May 14, 1918. Their job was to keep watch  

  • over the main supply bridge in the region. It  was vital to the war effort that the bridge not  

  • succumb to enemy sabotage. Johnson and Robertsshift was about to end. The two replacements were  

  • walking towards them to take over. Johnson saw  the young, inexperienced, soldiers and a wave  

  • of worry washed over him. He could not in good  conscience leave these two soldiers by themselves.  

  • It could mean death for both of  them and destruction of the bridge.

  • Johnson convinced Roberts to set up a secondary  lookout nearby to keep an eye on the new recruits,  

  • and to provide backup if needed. Johnson took  the first watch. Roberts drifted off to sleep.  

  • That was when the rustling sound beganAs the sound continued to get louder,  

  • Johnson decided he needed  to be ready for anything.  

  • He grabbed extra rifle cartridges and set  them up for easy access next to the grenades.

  • It became silent. The only sound was the  wind rustling the leaves of the forest trees.  

  • Then there was a loud crack, as the first  shot was fired. Quickly after the initial  

  • shot other guns began firing on the outpost  from the forest. Johnson began screaming  

  • at Roberts to fire back and throw grenades  at the perimeter. Roberts grabbed grenades  

  • from the stockpile Johnson had made. They  could not make out any enemy soldiers yet,  

  • but they continued lobbing the grenades in  the direction of the sounds Johnson had heard.  

  • Whenever they spotted the muzzle flash of a rifle  being fired they returned fire in that direction.  

  • It was impossible to tell if they were hitting  anything, but the hope was to hold out until  

  • help arrived. Unfortunately, it would belong time before reinforcements were sent.

  • There was a lull in the firingJohnson and Roberts waited,  

  • sweat dripped from under their helmets. Dirt  covered their faces from where terrain had been  

  • kicked up by enemy bullets. They peered over  the top of their trench to see if they could  

  • spot the enemy. A platoon of shadowy figures  seemed to manifest themselves at the treeline.  

  • There were dozens of black shadows at the  perimeter fence. A voice shouted in German and a  

  • hoard of soldiers flooded through the cut wiring  towards Johnson and Roberts. The enemy soldiers  

  • had their rifles lowered with their bayonets  pointed straight towards the two Hellfighters.

  • The light from fires created by the grenade  explosions reflected off of the German bayonets  

  • as they charged. Johnson picked up his rifle  and began firing into the oncoming wave of enemy  

  • soldiers. As they ran, the Germans unleashedvolley of bullets towards Johnson and Roberts.  

  • In the chaos Johnson yelled for Roberts  to go get help. But before he could,  

  • Roberts took pieces of shrapnel from a grenade  in his arm and hip. He was incapacitated,  

  • but still concious. Now Johnson was the only  one capable of fighting off the German forces.  

  • He needed to protect Roberts and  the outpost. He was the only thing  

  • standing between the Germans and the  French front lines. He was a one man army.

  • Johnson continued to throw grenades. Roberts  handed the explosive devices to Johnson, in an  

  • attempt to help his partner in any way he couldBut then Johnson threw their last grenade. All he  

  • had left was his rifle and knife. Johnson began  firing at the Germans, slowing their advance.  

  • To do this he had to make himself vulnerable to  enemy fire. He was hit by bullets in his side,  

  • hand, and head. Blood trickled out of his woundsbut Henry Johnson had no time to feel pain.  

  • All of his attention was on one thingkilling Germans. In the chaos of battle  

  • Johnson grabbed an American cartridge  and shoved it into his French made rifle.  

  • The two were not compatible. The rifle jammedJohnson was left without a working firearm.

  • The Germans noticed that something had  gone wrong. The Hellfighter who had been  

  • repelling them this whole time no longer  was firing. They took advantage of the  

  • moment and swarmed the holdout of Johnson and  Roberts. But Johnson refused to just give up  

  • and die without a fight. He grabbed his rifle by  the barrel and used the butt of the gun as a club.  

  • As the German soldiers tried to overtake  him, Johnson swung his gun relentlessly,  

  • smashing it into the heads and  faces of the German soldiers.

  • With each swing German blood and teeth flew across  the battlefield. Johnson was lethal even without  

  • bullets and grenades. He protected Roberts and  himself from the enemy using his makeshift club.  

  • Suddenly a massive German soldier came at  Johnson. He gripped the barrel of his rifle  

  • tightly with both hands. He swung the rifle back  like Jackie Robinson preparing to hit a home run.  

  • When the German soldier was only a few steps awayhe swung. The butt of the rifle connected hard  

  • with the enemy's head. The extremely powerful blow  caused the rifle to break. There was the sound  

  • of cracking. The wood of the gun had splintered  into a thousand pieces. The rifle fell apart in  

  • Johnson's hands. The Germans must have felt  relieved that this Hellfighter finally was  

  • weaponless. Now they could take him as a prisoner  or kill him. But Henry Johnson had other plans.

  • A German soldier took the stock of his  gun and rammed it into Johnson's head,  

  • causing him to stumble and fall to the groundThe enemy probably thought this was the end,  

  • but Johnson refused to give up. He climbed  back to his feet, reached down to his side,  

  • and drew his bolo knife. He grabbed the first  German soldier he could find and plunged the blade  

  • deep into the man, killing him. Johnson becamedeadly crazed man with a large knife. Mud covered  

  • his face, his uniform had been torn to shredsblood poured out of wounds all over his body.

  • A rage filled Henry Johnson that fueled him to  protect his partner and outpost at all costs.  

  • He began slicing and hacking every German soldier  in his path. It was him versus the entire German  

  • squad. Fear filled the eyes of the enemy as the  unstoppable force that was Henry Johnson plowed  

  • through their ranks. The German soldiers continued  to strike and fire at him, but nothing seemed to  

  • slow down The Black Death that was upon them. Out  of pure fear the German forces began to pull back.

  • Johnson pulled his knife out of one of  the soldier's bodies and looked around.  

  • The enemy had grabbed Roberts and were pulling  him back towards the forest. Johnson would not  

  • let them take his brother in arms. He ran full  force into one of the German soldiers knocking him  

  • to the ground. He slashed and stabbed the others  who were holding Roberts, forcing them to let go.  

  • Johnson put his body between the German's and his  partner. If the Germans wanted to take Roberts,  

  • they were going to have to go through  him. The enemy soldiers ran away.

  • The battle between the Germans, and the one man  army who came to be known as The Black Death,  

  • continued for almost an hour. Johnson saw an  opportunity to kill a lieutenant, which may  

  • have caused the Germans to go into full retreatHe ran towards the enemy slashing his way past  

  • soldiers using his bolo knife. Johnson was slowed  down by a bullet entering his arm. A soldier took  

  • advantage of this and jumped on Johnson's  back. But The Black Death would not go down.

  • He flung the German soldier off of his back  and drove his knife into the man's ribs. He  

  • then continued fighting through the German lineIn the mayhem he found his target and killed the  

  • German lieutenant. Finally support arrived. French  and American soldiers ran to the aid of Johnson.  

  • Seeing the force, the German soldiers went into  a full retreat. The battle was over, the one man  

  • army of Henry Johnson had won. Johnson and Roberts  were both immediately given medical attention.

  • The next day as the sun rose on Outpost 20.  Scavengers circled in the sky waiting for  

  • their turn on the battlefield. Military officials  could not believe what they found. Pools of blood  

  • soaked the earth. German helmets and discarded  weapons littered the battlefield. Four bodies  

  • were left behind, but due to the amount of  blood and German equipment on the ground,  

  • officials estimated that Johnson had wounded at  least 10 to 20 other Germans. Henry Johnson had  

  • prevented an entire German force from advancing  through the French line single handedly.

  • Johnson had suffered 21 different wounds from the  battle, but he did not give up and he survived.  

  • The bridge where the battle had been fought  was renamedThe Battle of Henry Johnson.”  

  • This is when he was officially  given the nameThe Black Death.”  

  • After he awoke in the infirmary he  was promoted to the rank of sergeant.  

  • Due to the extent of his injuries, Henry  Johnson was to be sent home to recover.  

  • Before he left the front lines the French awarded  him the Croix de Guerre, one of France's highest  

  • military awards. Johnson and Roberts were the  first two Americans to ever receive this award.

  • After the war Henry Johnson and the rest of the  Harlem Hellfighters would take part in a parade  

  • going up Fifth Avenue in New York City. They  were greeted by massive crowds all cheering for  

  • them. Leading the 3,000 troop parade was  Henry Johnson in a Cadillac convertible.  

  • Still recovering from his wounds, he was  sitting in the car waving to the crowds.  

  • The onlookers chantedOh, you Black Death!”  as Johnson rode by. When the parade finally  

  • arrived in Harlem, the gathered masses went into  hysterics as they cheered for the Hellfighters.

  • Unfortunately, racism was still prevalent during  the First World War. Along the parade route there  

  • were designatedwhitesections andcolored”  sections where onlookers could stand. Also,  

  • the Harlem Hellfighters could not march alongside  their white counterparts. Even Henry Johnson was  

  • still treated as a second class citizen, even  though he was a hero. It would be decades before  

  • the Civil Rights movement would begin a battle  for equality that we are still fighting for today.

  • Henry Johnson was declared one of the bravest  

  • Americans to fight in World War I by  President Theodore Rosevelt. In 1996,  

  • President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded  Henry Johnson the Purple Heart. Then in 2015,  

  • President Barack Obama awarded him the Medal of  Honor. Henry Johnson was truly a hero and a one  

  • man army. If you ever want to celebrate him  you can head to Albany, New York on June 5,  

  • where every year they celebrate Henry Johnson  Day in acknowledgement of the day he enlisted.

  • Now check out The Insanely Crazy Story  of a Tiny Soldier. Or learn about another  

  • war hero in How A Soldier Single-Handedly  Liberated An Entire German Occupied City.

"Man, you better wake up pretty soon or you might  never wake up,” said Henry Johnson to the soldier  

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The Black Death - WWI Soldier Unleashes Killer Instinct

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    Summer posted on 2020/11/20
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