The Army renamed a western Louisiana base Tuesday in an effort to shed its Confederate history — and instead uplift a black World War I hero.
Fort Polk was rebranded as Fort Johnson in honor of William Henry Johnson — who received the Medal of Honor nearly a century after serving on the front lines of France.
The base was previously named after Confederate commander Leonidas Polk.
“Sgt. William Henry Johnson embodied the warrior spirit, and we are deeply honored to bear his name at the Home of Heroes!” Brig. Gen. David Garner, the commanding general of the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Johnson, said in a post on Twitter.
Johnson enlisted in the Army in June 1917 and was assigned to the infamous Harlem Hellfighters, known for being one of the first all-black regiments to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces during the First World War.
Johnson served one tour of duty on the western edge of the Argonne Forest in France’s Champagne region, where he suffered 21 injuries while beating back a German night raid, according to the National Museum of the United States Army.
He also prevented a wounded black comrade from being taken prisoner when, after running out of grenades and ammunition, he killed two German soldiers with his knife.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt named him one of the five bravest Americans to serve in the conflict and he became one of the first Americans to be awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme, France’s highest award for valor.
Johnson insisted he was no hero, and the Army biography quotes him as saying, “There wasn’t anything so fine about it. Just fought for my life. A rabbit would have done that.”
Despite his heroic efforts, Johnson’s bravery was not recognized by the Army during his lifetime — Johnson, who succumbed to a heart condition in 1929 at the age of 32, was denied a disability allowance.
Johnson didn’t earn his various US awards until decades after his death — he was awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002.
He was also honored with the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2015 “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
The renaming is part of the military’s project to address historic racism by changing the names of nine Army posts that commemorate Confederate officers.
Fort Johnson is the third base in recent weeks to undergo the switch.
Fort Bragg in North Carolina earlier this month and Fort Benning in Georgia was renamed Fort Moore in May.
With Post wires