Two World War I veterans who saved the lives of other soldiers and were seriously injured in battle have finally been honored in a way that should have happened a century ago but didn't because of their race and religion.
There's nothing on the books saying explicitly that bigotry was the reason the men — one black and one Jewish — were denied the Medal of Honor when they were alive, but it's well-known that at the time they fought, members of ethnic and religious minority groups were often slighted.
President Obama fixed that this week. He presented posthumous medals to the representatives of the two men at a Tuesday ceremony at the White House. "It has taken a long time for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition they deserve," he said. "It's never too late to say thank you."
NBC News reports that New York lawmakers, including former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and Sen. Chuck Schumer, worked for 20 years to make sure Johnson, who's black, received the medal, doing extensive research on his battlefield bravery and pushing for legislation to waive a five-year statute of limitations for the Medal of Honor. Johnson died in 1929.
"This century-old injustice finally made right will be a profound gesture that will rectify a sad chapter in American history. And our nation will finally say 'Thank-you' to Sergeant Johnson, and the countless other African Americans who put their lives on the line for a nation that failed to treat them with full equality before the law," Schumer said in a statement.
William Shemin, a Jewish sergeant who died in 1973, was advocated for by his daughter, who reportedly spent years collecting the documents needed to support his heroic wartime actions.
"Sergeant Shemin served at a time when the contributions in heroism of Jewish Americans in uniform were too often overlooked," Obama said at Tuesday's ceremony. "But William Shemin saved American lives. He represented our nation with honor. And so it is my privilege on behalf of the American people to make this right."