Fort Polk officially renamed as Fort Johnson

Honors the service of a WWI Medal of Honor recipient who saved lives in hand-to-hand combat
The U.S. Army Joint Readiness Training Center in Vernon Parish now bares a new name.
Published: Jun. 12, 2023 at 1:17 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 13, 2023 at 7:53 PM CDT
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FORT JOHNSON, La. (KALB) - For 82 years, Vernon Parish has been home to Fort Polk, a U.S. Army military installment. Going forward, the installment will serve the same role as a Joint Readiness Training Center, but from now on, it will officially be known as Fort Johnson.

The U.S. Army’s premier combat training center now bares the namesake of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. William Henry Johnson, a decorated veteran of WWI who made a tremendous impact as a soldier in his short life.

“For us to know that it was named after a guardsman who really left his civilian career, went to fight for his nation and worked and did some remarkable things, I think it’s truly a fitting change,” said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th chief of the National Guard.

The North Carolina native enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917, joining the 15th New York Infantry Regiment, an all-Black national guard unit that would later become the 369th infantry regiment.

In 1918, Sgt. Johnson’s regiment went to war, brigaded with a French Army Colonial Unit on the Western Front.

Late one night, Sgt. Johnson and his regiment were surprised by German soldiers. While his comrades were incapacitated, Johnson, greatly injured, fought off German troops, exhausting his grenades and bullets and eventually running into hand-to-hand combat with only a knife.

“For most people, it’s you either than fight or flight, and he jumped in full bore into the fight,” said Gen. Hokanson. “It truly embodies our ability to stand up and ask someone to stand up and defend freedom and defend our nation. And his single-handed actions were just a great example of that.”

Sgt. Johnson sustained 21 separate wounds in the fight but managed to kill four German soldiers, injure a dozen more and save the lives of his fellow U.S. soldiers. For his valor, he became the first hero of the Great War and embodied the warrior spirit of the U.S. Army.

“We want a soldier, and Sgt. Johnson was a soldier, ultimately,” said Brig. Gen. David Gardner. “The National Guard tie for all the citizen soldiers of this country, we’ve always had a place in preparing America’s men and women. And so having someone that really exemplified the Home of Heroes, which is our moniker, is just fantastic.”

Sgt. Johnson was not just a hero to the nation, but also to his family, who have carried on his legacy of service for generations.

Tara Johnson, Sgt. Johnson’s granddaughter said she can not think of a more fitting place to bare her grandfather’s namesake.

“These guys are going to come from all over the country to here and be trained and learn a little bit about the strong soldier Henry Johnson was,” said Johnson.

Sgt. Johnson was awarded the Purple Heart in 1996, the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002 and the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2015, all posthumously.

Sgt. Johnson returned home from his tour in WWI and was not able to return to his work due to the extent of his injuries. He died in July 1929 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Fort Polk is the fourth of nine military installments to be redesignated per the Pentagon’s effort to remove the names of the Confederacy from military installments across the U.S.

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