The medals were given to Jewish Army Sergeant William Shemin and black Army Private Henry Williams.
“No one who serves our country should ever be forgotten,” Obama said. “We are a nation, a people who remembers our heroes. We never forget their sacrifices and believe it’s never too late to say thank you. Today, America honors two of her sons who served in WWI.”
Shemin joined the army in 1917, and while serving in France in 1918 “left the cover of his platoon’s trench and crossed open space, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue the wounded,” according to the White House. He later took command of his platoon after all the officers and senior non-commissioned officers had become casualties.
Johnson received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Germany in 1918, when he mounted a “brave retaliation resulting in several enemy causalities” after being attacked by a German raiding party of 12 soldiers.
Shemin’s daughter, Elsie Shemin-Roth, 86, fought to get Congress to pass an exemption to award her father with the Medal of Honor. The exemption was included in last year’s $585 billion defense bill.
“This was anti-Semitism, no question about it,” Shemin-Roth said at the time of bill’s passage in late 2014, the Associated Press reported. “Now a wrong has been made right and all is forgiven.”