Two of America’s recently recognized military combat heroes will be honored Friday, March 25th at 3 p.m.during a ceremony in Wilmington, where their names will be unveiled as additional honorees on the nationally recognized African American Medal of Honor Monument in Brandywine Park. The unveiling ceremony is at the monument near 18th Street and Baynard Boulevard.
Melvin Morris received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in a March 18, 2014 ceremony in the White House. On June 2, 2015 William Henry Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama in a posthumous ceremony at the White House.
The historic medal was established during the Civil War for those who went above and beyond the call of duty in combat.
The public is invited to meet and honor Melvin Morris of Florida, a Staff Sergeant during the Vietnam War and to honor the late Henry Johnson of New York, a Sergeant during World War I.
Commander Nolan S. Lewis and Mr. Lucius Shuler, III will serve as Masters of Ceremonies for the unveiling ceremony at the Wilmington memorial. Samuel L. Guy, Esq. will be the guest speaker. After the unveiling, a banquet reception will follow at the nearby Warner Elementary School, with the public invited. Delaware Governor Jack Markell, New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon, and Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams were instrumental in getting the names added.
“I look forward to thanking Mr. Morris personally for his heroism in the Vietnam War,” said County Executive Thomas P. Gordon. “He was injured three times as he charged forward to wipe out four bunkers under heavy machine gun fire, rescue his injured buddy and take him back to safety. His courage was incredible and I hope people will come out on National Medal of Honor Day to meet and thank him,” Gordon said. “We’re lucky he lived to be honored with the medal he deserves.”
Organizers of Friday’s events are grateful not only that Morris survived his combat heroism, but also that the retired Army Staff Sergeant will be able to come to Delaware for the unveiling after he attends a Medal of Honor ceremony Friday morning in Washington, D.C.
“They both saved men’s lives,” said Paul Cathell Jr., president of the Delaware Medal of Honor Historical Association. “Johnson was in hand-to-hand combat with the Germans and he saved a buddy they were taking away, who was wounded but still alive. Teddy Roosevelt Jr. said he was one of the bravest men he ever met in action in World War I.” President Obama presented his medal to leaders of Johnson’s former unit in the National Guard of New York.
According to Samuel L. Guy, Esq., who in 1997 sponsored the Wilmington City Council Resolution authorizing the placement of the Monument in Brandywine Park, "The monument was originally dedicated on Nov. 14, 1998 to honor the nation’s African American recipients of the Medal of Honor. The Monument was originally designed to accommodate the names of additional Medal of Honor recipients. It is the only monument of its kind in the United States, a replica of which was dedicated in the African-American Military Heroes corridor at The Pentagon. "
"County Executive Thomas P. Gordon has a long history with the African Medal monument," says Sam Guy. "Tom Gordon, on behalf of New Castle County, managed Brandywine Park for the City of Wilmington in the late 90's. He approved the addition of the Medal of Honor Monument to the park. As the owners of the park, City Council then authorized the placement of the monument at the corner of 18th and VanBuren Streets."
Gordon, recalls that, "the memorial was the result of years of persistence and dedicated work by Wilson K. Smith, who dreamed of creating an African American Medal of Honor memorial since he was inspired by his high school English teacher and credits the County’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Samuel L. Guy for his role, while on Wilmington City Council, for his vital leadership in securing the placement of the monument."
"In 1999 the sidewalk around the African American medal of Honor Monument was officially named the Wilson K. Smith Walkway in honor of the vision and tireless efforts to make the monument a reality. Thank you Wilson K. Smith, a Wilmington native," said Sam Guy.
The unveiling event follows Delaware’s 16th Annual National Medal of Honor Ceremony at 11 a.m. Fridayat VFW Post #3792, the Sgt. William Lloyd Nelson Memorial Post at 5695 Summit Bridge Road, just south of Middletown. The post, named for a Medal of Honor recipient who lived in the area, is the Delaware Medal of Honor Headquarters and hosts an annual ceremony in collaboration with the Delaware Medal of Honor Historical Association, founded by Cathell and his wife Cassie.
For GPS, the VFW post’s address is 5695 Summit Bridge Road, Townsend, DE 19734. Light refreshments with a cash bar will follow the ceremony there.
After the Presidential recognition in 2014, Paul Cathell Jr., president of the Delaware Medal of Honor Historical Association, said he started an effort to get the names of Morris and Johnson added to the African American Medal of Honor Monument, working with members of the 24th Infantry Regiment Combat Team Buffalo Soldiers Northeast Chapter from Willingboro, N.J., and the National Association for Black Veterans Inc., Wilmington, Delaware, Chapter 94, to get the names of Morris and Johnson added to the Wilmington, Delaware monument.
According to organizers of the events, they proudly point out how so many people have pulled together to ensure the recognition of the honorees, both here and around the country.
Many public officials and veterans’ group members are expected to attend both the Wilmington unveiling ceremony and the state’s annual recognition in Townsend.