As part of a nationwide push to rename U.S. Army outposts to distance themselves from Confederate figures in America, Fort Polk in Louisiana was renamed Fort Johnson on June 13.
The initiative includes the renaming of nine U.S. Army outposts, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina to Fort Liberty, Fort Hood in Texas to Fort Cavazos, and Fort Benning in Georgia to Fort Moore, among others.
Fort Polk was originally named for Confederate leader Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk. The new Fort Johnson is named after Sgt. Henry Johnson of the U.S. Army.
The name change to Fort Johnson honors a Black Medal of Honor recipient who served in the all-Black 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment during World War I.
“By the time what a reporter called ‘The Battle of Henry Johnson’ was over, Johnson had been wounded 21 times and had become the first American hero of World War I,” the U.S. Department of Defense said.
“Sgt. William Henry Johnson embodied the warrior spirit, and we are deeply honored to bear his name at the Home of Heroes,” according to the news release, Brig. Gen. David W. Gardner, commanding general of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk said.
From 1918 to 1919, he served on the western fringe of the Argonne Forest in France’s Champagne region, and he was one of the first Americans to receive France’s highest decoration for heroism, the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt named Johnson one of the five bravest Americans to serve in World War I, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Johnson, born in Winston Salem, N.C., in 1892, he relocated to Albany, N.Y., as a young man and worked as a driver, soda mixer, worker, and train station porter, was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996, the Distinguished Service Cross in 2003, and the Medal of Honor in 2015.
Johnson, who stood 5’4″ and weighed 130 pounds, enrolled in the Army in June 1917, just two months after the United States entered WWI, NPR reported
He was assigned to the 15th New York (Colored) Infantry Regiment, an all-Black New York National Guard regiment. It was federalized, dubbed the 369th Infantry Regiment (the Harlem Hellfighters), and sent to Europe.
The campaign to rename Army bases does not end with Fort Johnson; more names are expected to be changed as part of the renaming campaign, including Fort Gordon in Georgia, which will be renamed Fort Eisenhower in honor of Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, which will be renamed Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.