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UT student to be featured on ‘History Detectives’

University of Toledo student, native Toledoan and Marine veteran DeMarqus Townsend will be featured on the Tuesday, Oct. 9 episode of the PBS show “History Detectives.”

Townsend and his mother, Toledo resident Tara Johnson, were asked to meet “History Detectives” host Tukufu Zuberi at Arlington National Cemetery in a twist to the show’s usual format.

Traditionally, Zuberi researches information about guests’ artifacts. During the Oct. 9 broadcast, Zuberi brings his poster of an African-American combat hero to the gravesite of Henry Johnson, great-grandfather of DeMarqus Townsend.

Tukufu Zuberi, left, met with UT student DeMarqus Townsend and Tara Johnson, descendants of one of the men honored in his World War I poster titled “Our Colored Heroes.”

“The host was surprised to see members of Henry Johnson’s family,” said Townsend, a veteran of the First Battle of Fallujah, Afghanistan, in 2004 and a freshman studying psychology at UT. “He thought he was meeting a military official. Usually, guests give him an object and he finds out the story behind it. This time, we had the answers to his poster.”

The poster, highly unusual for its time, depicts the savagery of combat that occurred on a French battlefield in 1918. Henry Johnson, then a private in the U.S. Army, fought a German battalion with just a bolo knife and a defective rifle to rescue a fellow American soldier.

Johnson returned to his native New York a war hero with little standing as an African-American in the 1920s. He died in 1929, penniless and estranged from his family.

With the assistance of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, Henry Johnson was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2003, as well as and the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest national award.

His family has long fought for Johnson to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award given in the U.S. An application was approved in 2001, but did not have the support of then-Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton. It continues to be open for consideration.

“My grandfather was an extraordinary man who did extraordinary things,” said Tara Johnson, Townsend’s mother. “He didn’t get recognition when he was alive. I want to make sure he does now.”

DeMarqus Townsend followed a tradition of service. In addition to his great-grandfather, his grandfather, Herman Johnson, was a Tuskegee airman, noted businessman and civil rights activist.

Townsend’s career goal upon graduation from UT is to open a private practice to assist veterans returning from combat.

Click here to download a photo of Tukufu Zuberi meeting with DeMarqus Townsend and Tara Johnson.

Media Coverage
The Blade (Oct. 12, 2012)

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