The last two blogs in this space started to tell the tale of the first ever Medal of Honor. While most think that story belonged with the Andrews Raiders and the first presentation on medals back in March of 1863, the story really began more than two years earlier. If you missed these two blogs you might want to read them before today's.
Last Friday I left off with the some of the details of what would become known as the "Bascom Affair." (Google it for great reading.) With the expansion of the mail stage across the country, came an increase of the white man's invasion on various lands held by the natives. As more and more intrusion into their territory continued the natives felt they were being pushed too far. When their Chief Cochise came to investigate in peace, he was arrested and falsely accused of the earlier noted kidnapping and theft of cattle. A few natives and whites were killed in the process and yet more were taken hostage by both sides.
2nd Lt Bascom's ill training and abuse of Cochise caused an incident that needed not happen. In fact he almost cost the lives of some 60 soldiers now under siege by the natives. Them, plus a handful of white's running the stagging station for the mail line, about a dozen passengers and even more men from the stage crew itself. The situation further deteriorated when Bascom lost even more men and mules when they were sent off in search of fresh water.
Finally it was time to sneak out a desperate message to soldiers at two forts within 100 miles to to gallop forth and rescue the rescuers.
Messengers split up at Dragoon Springs, seen above, and raced off to Tucson to the north and Fort Buchanan to the south for help. The Commanding Officer at Fort Buchanan was in a real fix. He was already shorthanded when he sent Bascom off, and now the junior officer had him in another fix by calling for even more troops. Nevertheless, the Colonel did free up more men, but like the Bascom situation, all he could still spare were mules. So off the 15 cavalrymen went. This this time they were not under the command of another cavalry officer. This time they were commanded by an Assistant Surgeon... a doctor that pleaded with the Colonel to let him go so that he could apply his medical training to those wounded and desperately in need of his skills.
His name was Bernard JD Irwin and he was an Assistant Surgeon. And his, would be the very first Medal of Honor by date of action!
His men rode their mules for 24hrs through a blinding snowstorm and came across a handful of natives in the area of Dragoon Springs. They captured three and drove the rest off. But they also captured some cattle. Irwin decided to make use of the cattle by driving them forward and confusing the enemy if and when encountered.
And that would happen when the troop finally got to the area of Apache Pass.
These two images are of Apache Pass, with some of the remnants of possibly the mail stage stop on the left. The right image shows the Dos Cabezas Mountains and on the right the Chiricahua Mountains, as you look north. In the opposite direction about 20 miles there was a railway stop at a place called Marley in the lmate 1880's. Within a decade it would change its name to the current one of Willcox. Named after none other than the Civil War famous General, and Medal of Honor recipient who you have heard of in earlier blogs in this space.
On the 13th/14th of February (Valentine's Day) Irwin's small troop and cattle arrived and passed through Ewell Spring and advanced on Apache Pass with the cattle leading. By using smart tactics Irwin had placed his individual troopers very strategically to give the impression that there were many more men on hand than he really had. Soon more reinforcement actually arrived and the natives holding Bascom's soldiers under siege slipped away but even at that they managed to capture a few white men and torture them enroute. They would also leave the evidence of the men being tortured for the white men to find. Irwin's men acted in kind and hung several of the natives and left them hanging for the Natives to see.
Soon, with the start of the Civil War most of the military were pulled out and moved east for the war effort and in the process abandon forts and support for the the mail line and the white settlers who braved those earlier days.
Bascom was actually praised by his Commanding Officer when he finally got back to Fort Buchanan and within short order was promoted to Captain. Within a few months he would be killed in the CW by a Confederate cannon ball.
Assistant Surgeon Bernard JD Irwin came to the US from Ireland in 1845. He enjoyed a long and rewarding career through the Civil War and finally retired with the rank of a Brig. General in 1894. His is wearing the Medal of Honor draped around his neck in the image to the left.
1894 was a good year for him for it was in that year that...after a 33 year wait, he was finally rewarded with the Medal for his rescuing Bascom and the others back in 1861... on a date even before the medal was invented or the US was even at war with itself. And in lands that were not American, but native.
Barnard had a son and a grandson that both also reached the ranks of general. In retirement he spent either full or part time living in the Cobourg area of Ontario, Canada from 1901 to 1917, and upon death that year his remains were sent to West Point were he lies at rest today.
The first MOH recipient, by date of action, was not American born and he joins the ranks of apparently at least 143 other non Americans who would earn their Medals of Honor during the Indian Campaigns, who were also foreign born, including several from Canada.
One in five over the entire history of the medal went to foreign born heroes!
Over the past year I have often noted that whilst the case of the Andrews Raiders is usually thought of as the first time the Medal of Honor was awarded, that depended on how you looked at it. Indeed the Raiders' medals were the first presented, but others would later be awarded for actions on dates before the Raiders did their deed.
On Wednesday I started to bring some more details re the first..by date of action. This story of the evolution of the medal goes hand in hand with the very evolution of the United States. Part of that evolution dealt with the public demand for a better communications system across the US in the 1850's that then took over a month for a letter to cross the continent.
If you missed Wednesday's blog, you might want to read it before you dig your heals into today's,
For the rest, let's move on...
As earlier mentioned, the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage route travelled through Indian held lands, lands that were not available for the white's development. As the route expanded and more and more activity started to take place, the natives rightfully started to get concerned. Knowing the traveller was simply passing through, they kept an eye on things, but things started to change. With over 200 staging areas, these took men to operate. They needed housing. They needed to raise crops to feed themselves...and those passing through. Soon staging stops and nearbye lands were becoming more and more occupied..and all under the very frustrating eye of the owners of that land... the natives.
The red line shows the route of the Mail Stage. In the area which later became the state of Arizona, and about 72 miles directly south of Tucson a rancher by the surname of Ward was off his land doing some business. The natives took advantage of this and raided his property to steal cattle. In the process they also kidnapped his 12 yr old step son named Felix Martinez. Some would say that the farmer was more concerned about his cattle, but none the less upon return home and learning of what happened he rode off about a dozen miles north to the Cavalry outpost at Fort Buchanan.
This sparked a war between the while man and native that would last some 20 years!
Martinez would be raised by the natives as one of their own and would be with them for about 20 years. He would later actually become a most feared scout with the US Army and rose to the rank of a Sergeant. He is shown at left as a scout. (Google "Michey Free" to read his fascinating story.)
The Fort's commander knew he was short staffed on officers and had to turn to 2nd Lt George Bascom (right image) to help Ward recover his child and cattle. Bascom had just graduated at the academy but rather miserably...at 2nd from the last in the class to do so. But the Commander had little choice and so...off went Bascom, farmer Ward and about 60 men and mules to the rescue.
Bascom's men rode by mule about 150 miles, from Fort Buchannan, (below Green Valley at bottom centre of map) to an area called Apache Pass. (marked with the letter A to the right)
Bascom felt that the kidnapped youth was being held in this area. It was just beyond one of the Stage stops and because of the very natural spring water in the area was a well known stopping point for all... including the natives. Travelling just beyond this point Bascom set up a temporary camp. And not far from there Chief Cochise had his own camp set up.
Cochise at the time had an excellent relationship with the stage route folks and often was seen coming in for water and chats... and keeping a keen eye on developments at the same time. When he learned that Bascom had arrived and set up camp... he was told that it was temporary and that the Cavalryman he was simply enroute through the area.
So he decided to check this out and went into Bascom's camp to meet the officer.
But the meeting did not go well. The young brash Bascom's did not realize that Cochise was from another tribe than that of the kidnappers. Nor did he realize that Cochise had an excellent working relationship with the white man and was a man of honor. Bascom immediately accused the Chief of the kidnapping, arrested him and a few others and put them into a tent. Other natives outside the tent were obviously quite upset at this. In the confusion, Cochise cut his way through the back of the tent and he and several others escaped... but under fire from the Cavalry.
The war was on !
Bascom immediately broke camp and returned to the overland staging area and explained what had happened. Meanwhile some of the natives there asked the white men to come out to sort things out. When they did several men got shot on both sides as well as a few more prisoners prisoners taken on both sides. These incidents started others and on the same day the natives captured a wagon train and about 16 mules. Prisoners were taken but most of the men, being Mexican, and not well liked by the natives, were tied to their wagon wheels upside down. Then fires were lit below their heads. Soon their heads would literally blow up.
There were several such incidents before word got back to Bascom's home ground at Fort Buchannan and yet a second rescue had to be launched to save Bascom and his men.
And that's when the doctor is sent for. But that comes next Wednesday.
Job was to heal the wounded not kill them. But he gets Medal of Honor, even though it was not even on US soil, nor was he even US Born.
So marks the true beginning of the Medal of Honor in the United States of America!
But that's not the way most think of the Medal of Honor. Trouble is, it seems that not enough actually do think of it. Several years ago a US House of Representatives member gave notice that the Wall Street Journal recently did a study of what the youth knew about this most precious award for bravery. Some 1500 students were asked to respond to a survey and when completed it was discovered that a whopping 50% hadn't a clue what it was. Only 5% did. Over 50% thought it had something to do with the entertainment business. (And some surely wondered why a recent call in this space was for a law to be passed barring the use of the term by ANY organization other than for THE Medal of Honor.) But I digress.
I and many others are anxiously awaiting an update on the Alonzo Cushing story. His bravery during the Battle of Gettysburg on its 3rd day, and in the face of about 15,000 troops charging his line, gave his life for his country. A move has been ongoing for years to see that he be properly awarded with a Medal of Honor. He received an on the spot promotion... at death.. and had two others for similar bravery in his short career. Recent news is that the US Congress has allowed for the extension of time and has approved the award and it is awaiting the President's approval. It will be the longest case on record of delay between action and award, but when it comes it will be front page news across the US and at about page 100 in two or three Canadian papers, despite the fact that hundreds of Canadians were probably on the same grounds of slaughter that day and the two before.
But back to the first Medal. Here's what the press had to say about what most claim was the first medal...or medals... awarded.
This appeared on page one of the New York Times on 26 March 1863. It was buried in column five and is rather difficult to notice unless you have a very sharp eye. In short, it not only did not even give the name of the medal, nor did it give any major news coverage. This lack of fanfare was widely spread amongst the military and civy population at the time and many a recipient simply tossed it into a drawer when they got it. It has only become a mainstay in later days, and of course would receive incredible news coverage today.
The above story is about the Andrews Raiders who, about 21 strong at the start of the mission, went undercover and deep into enemy lines to capture a train, destroy telegraph cables, burn some bridges and tear up some rail line in the process. All of which would quite upset the enemy. Most would later be awarded the MOH, some posthumously as they were captured and without due course, taken out and hung as spies. However this only happened after plenty or torture. The Raiders have received honourable mention in this space often.
But the Andrews Raiders were NOT the first Medal of Honor recipients. Six of them were the first TO BE PRESENTED WITH THE MEDAL, but later that year and for years to come others would be also awarded, and for deeds before the Raider's activities took place.
And one of these is the subject of the next few blogs.
To tell this story requires the laying of ground work... to tell yet more of the story of the history of the United States. And like going to Google to get your simply answer... it took you hours to get where you wanted to go...and that is only IF you were successful and managed to live through all the other interesting road-signs along the journey.
But in avoiding them, you often avoid a neat part of the story...
To give an example.... earlier today I sent an email to PEI with regards to another MOH matter I am working on. Within 6 minutes I had a reply. That email travelled a minimum of 2,594 KMs (there and back) according to Google... in 6 minutes.
Today's story starts back in the late 1850's when the Pony Express was the email of the day. As was the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage. And before this... my email would have had to be put in ink, sent down to California, then down to the Panama, then travel by canoe and pack animals, and a train across the isthmnus, then boarded on a steamer and head up to New York City, and from their sailed still further North to PEI. Months later, if miracles were on your side, the letter arrived.
You can see what a monstrous task it was in those days to communicate across the country and the incredible delay to hear back. And more often than not, because of the dangerous of the day, you probably never got an answer. The blue line above is the line of dust your email (hehe) left enroute to the east coast.
Back in 1845 the US annexed Texas. Then followed a 22 month war with Mexico over disputed lands. But with fall of Mexico City, the states now known as California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and portions of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico ceded over 1/2 million square miles to the US. Couple this with gold discoveries and the headlines further east would spread the news of gold like wildfire. And thus began the stampede west. Populations would explode and with them also came lots of troubles.
One of these was the push for better east/ west communications lines.
Congress authorized the post office to get tenders for a better, faster and more efficient route across the US for the mails. Nine bids were whittled down to one.. the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage, that would chop half the distance off the earlier route but would need a massive support system to carry out. It proposed travel through several states and also several Indian territories, but the whole route would be chopped down to just 2800 miles.
The proposal was accepted and took a year to plan. It called for 2 trips in each direction weekly, would carry upwards of 25,000 letters and about a dozen very brave and gutsy passengers each way. The trip would take 25 days, would need an infrastructure of over 240 staging areas across the nation, 2000 workers, over 250 coaches and 1800 mules and horses.
The Overland route would be the longest on record, would travel from San Francisco to St Louis in the East and have 9 divisions. One of these, number 4 was deep in native held territory.
It was here that the real beginnings of the Medal of Honor would plant their routes, but more on that on Friday.
Hope you will join me then,
Trained as an auto mechanic and welder, goes off to war and proves heroic, recommended for DSO, but gets awarded the Victoria Cross.
One of the communities in Saskatoon Saskatchewan is a place called Sutherland. Pre the 1950's it was town standing on its own with a population of about 55,000. And from within these numbers could be found the Currie family. In mid 1912 there would be a child born to the family and named David Vivian. David would attend Public School but by the time it was to go to high school the family had relocated south about 225 km to Moose Jaw, and from there David would attend technical collegiate courses in welding and auto mechanics. As a side line he was interesting in things military and joined up with the local militia.
David was only in the militia for one year but obviously he and it got along so good that he managed to get promoted to Cpl and Sergeant, as appearing in this photo.
Then came WW11 and with it he immediately re-mustered into the regular army by joining the 29th Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment, better known as the Alberta Regiment. He would be commissioned soon as a Lt, and get rapid promotions to Captain in 1941 and Major by 1944.
Regular readers of these blogs know of the Civil War famous battles of the sea and of massive armada's of ships concentrated on some of the dozen or more major strongholds of the Confederacy. Fort Fisher alone saw well over 50 vessels attacking as mention in very recent blogs... and those were the biggest on record in the 1860's.
But in retrospect perhaps they sure seem small when you consider that during the Normandy landings of WW11 eight navies brought millions of service men and women to the shores of France in almost 7,000 vessels of all description.
Just a few months later David... and thousands of others would find themselves in and around an area that became known as the Falaise Gap.
These two maps of a portion France show the Gap but are rather confusing. I will try to explain briefly. Both are of the same area but the one on the right is far more detailed. To give an idea of where this is, off both maps and to the right about 160 km is Paris. The town of Falaise on the left map is just above the red dotted line at the top of the Bulge, and below the flag and words...Cdn Ist Army
On the left map this red dotted line almost encloses axis powers, noted by the Swastika's. They are actually within the Bulge or Pocket and in a very bad spot. They are surrounded on three sides by the armies of several countries and have only one way out and that is off to the right through the open area that was labelled the Gap...the Falaise Gap. It would be here that a decisive battle would wrap up the Normandy campaign with very heavy fighting in Mid August of 1944. A win here for the Allies would see the roads to Paris opened and not long after...the roads into Germany.
The map on the right shows the allied push Southbound, Northbound and Eastbound and thus squeezing the Axis troops into a narrow line that has only one way out..to the right and through the Gap...where more troops including David are waiting for them.
David, by now a Major, is ordered to take the town of Saint Lambert-Sur-Dives which is being very heavily protected by the Germans who have to keep it open to allow their troops to escape from the Bulge. Under his command are several tanks from his South Alberta Regiment, some artillery and some infantry from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Saint Lambert is just off the right side of the right map and below the compass. (or clock)
Late in the day of 18 August Major Currie made an attack on the heavily protected town of St Lambert. He took heavy casualties including the loss of two of his tanks damaged by the enemy's 88 mm guns. In the attack he also lost all of his officers due to death or wounding. After dark he evaded sentries and made it back into town to check out their defences and also made his way to the two tanks, and led the Canadian gunners back to friendly lines.
The following day he led another attack into the town, occupying half and even recovering his lost two tanks. Using the intelligence learned the day earlier, he was better able to place his own defences, and turn back numerous attempts by the Germans to retake ground lost. Throughout all of this David kept on his feet and moved about constantly checking on the defences and ensuring all his men were OK.
When the enemy was about to finally launch a final attack on the major they were stunned to find themselves on the wrong end of an attack that was so furious that many of the Germans simply gave up. By days end Currie and his men had captured or destroyed 7 enemy tanks, a dozen 88 mm guns, destroyed 40 vehicles, killed over 300 Germans, wounded another 500 and took 2,100 prisoners of war.
After 36 hours on his feet...less one hour... Major Currie was finally relieved. He was so tired he instantly fell asleep...while still standing... and collapsed on the spot.
Major Currie is standing 3rd from the left getting a report from one of his troopers. He is holding a pistol in his right hand. 3rd from the right is a German officer who is surrendering to a Sergeant Major. The exact location from 1944 is shown on the right many years later. A plaque and crest in front of the building gives honour to the battle. An actual filming of part of the fighting and the surrender can be viewed by going to...
During the Battle of Scheldt a few months later the regiment's HQ sent an order to Major Currie...get to London on double quick time!
It seems that he was about to be presented with a Victoria Cross. But his first nomination was for the Distinguished Service Cross, but higher command upped it to an actual VC.
Here's what the London Gazette had to say about Major Currie. No doubt it may not a first but I believe it is the first time I have seen a gazette entry and in the whole order, it only contained one VC. But nevertheless, here is that issue....
end of supplement
Major Currie was rushed by auto to the Channel and raced across in a high speed motor boat, picked up by a car and driven to Buckingham Palace. He was still wearing his batttledress uniform that he had not been out of for about 2 weeks. Over this was his oil stained tanker crew set of overalls. He at least got out of them in London, entered the castle, walked along some pretty nice carpet and stood before his and the Empire's King George V1. Lord Chamberlain read the citation and a Brig. General handed the velvet cushion holding the Victoria Cross to the King, who was wearing the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet. The King pinned the VC on Currie's chest and they exchange a few words, shook hands and Currie was off again. But this time to a crowd of cameras out side the building and within days back home for a Christmas with his family.
Here is Major Currie wearing the ribbon to his VC in late 1944 or before Feb. of 1945. That is when he was appointed to the rank of acting Lt. Colonel and given command at Camp Borden Ontario of the Armoured Corps Training School.
From 1960 to 1978 he was the Sergeant of Arms at the Parliament Buildings at Ottawa.
There is a road named after this brave Canadian in Saskatoon, and armoury for him at Moose Jaw and a plaque in Owen Sound next to two others, one being for Billy Bishop, VC.
NOTE: This was to appear yesterday but about 2 hrs. before being due to be published the screen went blank and the entire blog was lost.... and redone today.
See you next Wednesday.
From labourer to life saver, then greets King as Victoria Cross pinned to chest, but death follows within a decade.
He was just another little baby boy named John. Millions came before and millions since... all Johns. But this little fellow born in Kiddermister, some 130 miles from London, would grow up to be unlike most of the other John's. He'd be a hero.
Like most he would get his basic upbringing and do little jobs here and there but before WW1 came along John Frances Young decided a change was in order and so he moved off to Canada. Soon he'd find work packaging tobacco for the Imperial Tobacco Company in Quebec. Then came the call for men to go off to war. John tossed the tobacco aside and jumped into the uniform of a private soldier with the 87th Quebec Regiment. They were also known as the Canadian Grenadier Guards. This was not just any regiment. It was the oldest militia infantry unit in the Canadian Army, and still is today. It has been around since the late 1700's.
No doubt WW1 war posters like this got the attention of the youth of the day. But John was no youth. He was already 22 years old. We will never know if he saw this poster for the regiment or not, but it was no doubt widely circulating in October 1915 when John enrolled. Perhaps he did see it!
Well over 1,000 men would be selected to join the Grenadiers and these would be formed into the 4th Battalion of the 4 Canadian Expeditionary Force. The men of the 87th would come primarily from the St John and Montreal areas of Quebec.
In those days many of the recruits were horded off to Valcartier to do many weeks or months of basic training and then headed off to the local train station for a long ride east to Halifax. They would then board large liners for the sail across the Atlantic to England.
In May of 1915 the CPR's RMS Empress of Britain, as shown in this picture, had been com-missioned as a troop carrier and would transport over 100,000 troops to Egypt, India and the Dardanelles. She would continue this service throughout the war.
On 25 April 1916 John and over 1,000 of his fellow soldiers and officers from the 87th would be transported across from Halifax to England. After some shakedowns and probably more training his unit of 36 officers and 1026 other ranks would be landed in France in August to meet their foe.
And meet them they would. By the time the war was over they would have added 16 Battle Honours to their unit colours. They would also bring home 22 Military Medals, 3 Military Crosses and one Victoria Cross.
Through dozens of minor skirmishes and major battles of the war, Pte John Young did not carry a weapon. His weapons were his hands.
He used these as a stretcher bearer and a medic and it would be with these healing rather than destructive hands that he would earn his fame at the Dreacort-Queant Line and just beyond on 2 Sept., 1918. This was a banner day for the Victoria Cross and for Canada as well. On that day11 Victoria Crosses were earned, 6 to Canadians. All in the same battle.
When the German defensive line, so called as it ran between the two cities of the same name, was finally breached the roll of the 87th was to take a high point called the Drury Ridge. The unit faced an area were it was mostly open ground well defended by enemy rifle and machine gun fire. The unit took many casualties and it fell to the stretcher bearers to cross open lines under this fire to treat the wounded and try to get them back to friendly lines.
Pte John Young, pictured above and beside his cap badge or collar dog, found himself out in the open doing his job of treating the wounded. He was under intensive fire for over an hour doing his best to save his comrades but then he ran out of medical supplies. That did not stop him. He crawled out of harm's way and back to his headquarters and got more supplies and went right back into the danger zone to continue supplying the best aid he could. When the line there was finally broken it then fell to him to arrange for other stretcher bearers to go back to over a dozen spots to pick up the wounded he had already treated.
For this John was awarded a Victoria Cross... the only one in his unit of about 1100 men. It would be pinned on his chest by King George V at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in August of 1919.
Here is what the London Gazette had to say about Pte John Francis Young...
After the war John returned to Canada and even to his job at Imperial Tobacco. He also maintained a presence in the Militia were he was promoted to Sergeant.
On November 11 1921 the US unveiled its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery at Washington DC. Dignitaries from around the work attended as did Canada's then PM Robert Border. Young accompanied him to the service, as did another VC recipient who in later life moved to Canada. His name was Sgt George Richardson and he was 89 yars old at the time. He was then oldest living VC recipient in the word.
Several years after returning forn the war, John developed tuburculosis as a result of the mustard gasses he obsorbed from the battle grounds of Europe. The illness ultimately took his life about ten years after he was presented his VC, and he was laid to rest in Quebec in November of 1929.
The next time you are in Ottawa visited our National Military War Museum where you will find about one third of all the VC's awarded to Canadians. (There is also a large collection at Calgary's Glenbowe Museum most worthy of a visit.) John Young's is at Ottawa as well and was just added to the collection from the family a few years back.
Yesterday would have been John's 121st birthday.
Happy birthday Sergeant.
see you on Friday
US Press and others still confused about what is and what is not a Medal of Honor/ state tightens controls on valor claims/ and Coast Guard Foundation release fabulous keepsake honouring Canadian MOH recipient.
Over the past year I have often noted that different news outlets and websites across the United States were often getting the name of the Medal of Honor wrong. In many of these cases the same folks ought to have well known better. Other times rookies made mistakes and sometimes some even admitted doing so.
Often, though thankfully less and less now, you see a reference to the medal being called the Congressional Medal of Honor when of course there is no such thing. Years ago, the Congress gave the authority to a group to form an association. That group were those that had actually earned the medal over years. Congress required them to use the words Congressional Medal of Honor Society. But that did not automatically make the name of the medal the same. It is in fact simply.. the Medal of Honor.
Well folks, as often we also see another point of confusion. Web sites and many in the press often call another medal the Medal of Honor when in fact it is the CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL, something entirely different.
This is very frustrating as it not only gives misinformation, in effect it downgrades the actual real thing.
I truly wish someone would create a law actually forbidding the use on the phrase "MEDAL OF HONOR" unless of course it is THE Medal of Honor. Perhaps some fines would smarten folks up.
On a related matter, recent stories again reminded us about the incredible codetalkers, but in so doing many referred to the medal presented to these heroes as the Medal of Honor when it was actually the Congressional Gold Medal that they were awarded. Same thing not that long ago for those involved in the recovery of stolen war art in Germany and elsewhere. These men became known as the Monuments Men, and were sent off on a mission to locate and seize stolen war art and returned same to their rightful owners. I believe a movie will be shortly released on these men which I encourage all to see.
The above is not for a minute to suggest that these two groups were not worthy of recognition. Clearly they were. My issue is that we ought to properly remember them as the heroes they are and also remember how they were rewarded.. not how they were not.
Moving on, but still with the protecting the institution of the Medal of Honor, here is some more news.
Over the years there have been many cases were someone has claimed that they were the recipient of the MOH and other medals and participated in many a battle they did not. For years the FBI and others have been keeping very close eyes on the problem. Not long ago I heard that the matter was so prevalent that there were more imposters than actual bonafide recipients still alive. Heck there was even the case of a JUDGE making these false claims and evidencing same apparently with fake evidence on the walls of his very courtroom.
In 2005 national efforts to curb the problem were rewarded with the creation of the Stolen Valor Act which made several actions illegal. One of these was to claim being a recipient in hopes of some sort of a gain...maybe a job,.. or access to clubs or financial benefits like loans etc.
Soon some who chose to fake heroism were brought before the courts and eventually the law was struck down due to the individual's right to freedom of expression and other criteria. Recently the law was reintroduced nationally to better reflect the concerns in the court rulings.
In the mean time.. most recently the state of Pennsylvania has taken matters in its own hands and made moves to create a state data base to list all state... and perhaps all national MOH recipients and possibly even include other medals of heroism as well. A matter that I thought others have also moved on.
While attempting to protect the sanctity of the medal and the heroism being rewarded, the state is to be congratulated. But perhaps it did not go far enough. It could have started a trend for other states to follow by introducing for discussion the creation of a new state law. One that that forbids ANYONE in the state...including the state government from creating any medal and calling it a Medal of Honor. Taking it further, same discussion should include giving a date by which any current "Medal of Honor" programs at any level other than federal, and within the state must rename their programs by a given date.
Currently many professional organizations across the country use the trerm for its medals. Police forces and fire department and lawyers and local mayors etc have numerous programs that use this title for their awards program. It delineates from THE Medal of Honor.. a national award, and ought not to be allowed. A few minutes on a regular basis on the net will produce lots of hits of groups who use the term other than the US President's award.
AGAIN THIS IS NOT FOR A MINUTE TO SAY that many of the recipients of said medal at other than federal level, are not worthy of some distinction. It just ought not to have the same name as the medal that can only be awarded by the President of the United States.
Surely such a move would in itself be a major boost to the morale of those so entitled and would do wonders to further protect the image of THE Medal of Honor.
And now on a third matter, some well deserved kudo's to the men and women of the US Coast Guard and their Foundation.
Spend a few minutes reading any of the press releases of the USCG and you will immediately come to the conclusion that somewhere in the world probably daily there are many men and women of the Guard that are risking their lives in the work they do to save.. and to protect.. wherever they go. Recently in this space I told of their incredible record over the years of saving OVER 1 MILLION lives in this work.
Regular readers of this space will know that a few weeks ago I gave coverage to the great work the foundation and the guard did in assisting with the clean up at ST Elizabeth's cemetery in Washington DC. The very cemetery were Joseph Noil a Nova Scotia born Medal of Honor recipient is buried and who's grave was recently discovered. The same land is also home, on another piece mind you, of the new multi million dollar headquarters for the USCG and in their respect to their lone Medal of Honor hero Douglas Munro, they have named their HQ buildings.
Well now the Foundation has jumped into the fray, and are most welcome. A recent blog told you of the production of a two coin set in honour of Munro, the Canadian born at Vancouver BC. In his hounor the coin set was introduced with a purpose as hounorable as the man was. All funding raised is to be steered towards a new Douglas Munro Scholarship Program, which will provide assistance to children of serving members who qualify, and are seeking assistance to attend higher education at the college level.
Here are the two coins in the set. Each is numbered and there is a very limited number that have been produced. This gorgeous keepsake was designed by the family and on the face contains a likeness to Douglas while the reverse, and thus the two coins, shows a likeness to a statue created in his honour and also an image of the Medal of Honor.
I am told there are still a few available and supporters of this blog should support this cause if possible. Read more at... http://www.coastguardfoundation.org/connect/news/329-douglas-munro-challenge-coin-available-now
In the words of this great federal agency...
The Coast Guard Foundation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of the men and women of the Coast Guard and their families. Founded more than 40 years ago, the Coast Guard Foundation provides education, support and relief for the brave men and women, who enforce maritime law, protect our homeland and preserve the environment. The Coast Guard Foundation aims to strengthen their service to our nation by encouraging them to excel on- and off-duty.
The Coast Guard Foundation supports many programs and projects through donations from individuals, corporations, grants and fundraising events. We provide college scholarships to dependents of enlisted personnel on active duty, who are retired, or serving in the reserves. The Foundation funds recreational and family-oriented facilities, and supports education and morale programs at bases and on ships around the nation.
In times of loss, we offer financial relief to Coast Guard families who lose their possessions in natural disasters. When Coast Guard families suffer the ultimate loss, losing a loved one in the line of duty, the Foundation provides scholarship and relief funds to support the families during their most trying times.
The Foundation supports academic, athletic and leadership excellence for cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy.
The Foundation supports the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the volunteer arm of the service, providing units with critical funding for boating safety and mission critical support.
Kudo's to the USCG and the foundation and the members of each for the work they do and for honouring Douglas in so many ways and very much keeping his story alive.
see you on Wednesday
Still working on some Medal of Honor recent news... some info not in yet so today's blog will be posted on Monday... sorry for the delay.
Over the past few weeks I have been in contact with family of two of the Canadian heroes hopefully you have read about in the past here on this site. The first is the family of Sgt Charles MacGillivary, PEI born MOH recipient for heroism during the Battle of the Bulge in WW11. And then contact was made with another family, thanks to the help of the Victoria BC's Genealogy Society fellow member DC, a very talented researcher and strong supporter of this work. This resulted with my being put in contact with a member of Quebec born Carlos Rich's family. His bravery during the Battle of the Wilderness in Civil War days was recognized with the awarding of his Medal of Honor.
I anxiously await some promised real goodies from both families.
I believe Charles MacGillivary was the only MOH recipient that ultimately ended up as President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, who was in fact a non US born recipient. He helped to created the society and usher through the passing by the US Congress of the authority to form the society, after WW11 and thus the term "Congressional" in its name. Though the medal, as you hopefully know, does not include the name.
Charles also played a role in the creation of the newer model of grave markers that have been placed across the US and Canada since the US bicentennial. (It appears this model may have been recently changed but more in another blog.)
Charles also took the first four of the flat markers outside of the USA. He did this by bringing them to Canada many years ago, and unveiled them in suitable ceremonies of four recipients burial places in the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
He did the same at many graves in the US and one of these was at the grave site of Seaman Herbert Foss from Wisconsin. He and about 50 others were involved in the cable cutting incident in Cuba on 11 May 1898 and of which much has been said in this space in the past. In that same event the two Miller brothers from Nova Scotia, Daniel J Campbell of PEI and Henry Russell of Quebec were also involved and awarded the MOH. On the same day but in other events, Nova Scotian Thomas Cooney and Ontario born John Everetts also became MOH recipients.
All of the above and Leonard Chadwick have been mentioned in this space. Chadwick being of course not only a MOH man from cable cutting days in Cuba, but also one of only 8 in the world, to be awarded the Queen's Scarf for repeated actions of bravery during South Africa's Boer War. He almost got the Victoria Cross. Not once but three times. This, just months after being a hero in Cuba wearing a US Sailor's uniform.
Regular readers of these blogs know of my interest to have the Canadian recipients better recognized in Canada. Across the US you can find plaques and monuments, army bases, streets, bridges, buildings, airfields, statutes and war ships, just to name a few ways that Americans recognize their heroes.
But coming north of the border, of the six Canadians named above, after 13 years of research I can find only one plaque in Nova Scotia, to recognize any of these six. But those same six have at least one park, 2 streets names, 1 armouries, and well over a dozen monuments containing their names in the United States.
The question must be asked... why are we so slow in recognizing our heroes? And better yet... when are we going to do anything about It?
The great Canadian statesman and Father of Confederation...Joseph Howe once said that... "A wise nation preserves its records, gatheres up its monuments, decorates the tombs of its illustrious dead, repairs its great structures, and fosters national pride and love of country by perpetual references to the sacrifices and glories of the past."
This man, who would become known as the founder of Freedom of the Press in Canada, surely did not mean that we ought to recognize our heroes...or shall I better say...just some of them...and... just sometimes.
Winston Churchill once said that... "A people who have forgotten their heritage, are a people who have lost faith in theirselfs." I hope he was wrong!
JFK left us with the words that..."A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers." (I'd like to add women to this quote.)
So folks, back to Leading Seaman Foss above mentioned...
Here is an artist's rendition of a waterfront memorial in the planning stages for Herbert Foss in Wingham Mass. He was born in Maine but spent many years in Mass. His military heroism was for the very events that 4 of the above six Canadians were also involved in, yet there is no such monument to them anywhere in Canada. Something's wrong folks when the Americans can recognize their heroes (many of which were Canadian) but we cannot!
Travelling one third of the way across the US to Wisconsin, as you cross into the state you can find an auto rest stop and comfort station and a wonderful Medal of Honor memorial to the state's MOH men. While you will find nothing that I know of in Canada to honour Quebec born recipient Albert O'Connor, you can find that at least our American friends have taken the trouble to honour him. His name is on the right image above.
And in November of 2012 the State's Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled their newest monument to the state Medal of Honor recipients at the Veterans Home at King. Pictured below is that unveiling. Notice the fellow at the far left in the center image. That is Vietnam MOH recipient Gary Wetzel, who joined state officials at the historic event.
And at my request today, some of the folks at the state department also came to my aid. I wanted an image of the engraved name of Canadian hero Albert O'Connor. HIs name ought to have been on this monument. And despite the near 40 below temperature and a whole lot of snow about, they bundled up and stomped out in the snow to help out. Below are the photos they most kindly sent.... not from the files...but from the snow. You can even see their footprints.
They must have brushed the snow off the monument but left it with a cute little little hat to remind us here in southern BC what the stuff looks like...hehe.
You can see O'Connor's name at the right and just three down from another familiar name I would hope. I would like to thank the staff who arranged and took the pictures, the state for creating these memorials and those all across the US that do their part to keep these stories alive.
John F Kennedy once said that...:anyone can make a difference... and everyone should try." These state folks did that today. I hope their bosses know this.
See you on Friday.
Yet more remminising of the Canadian Victoria Cross and Medal of Honor stories of December in years gone bye.
I decided weeks back that I wanted to end the year with a few blogs reminding you folks briefly about some of the stories I have brought in this space about heroes who were born, died, performed their deeds or received their awards around the Xmas season in years past. I had hoped to wrap it up in two blogs, but this is a third and I may need at least two more.
Now we have seen our New Year's come and go and I am, as so often the case, late with these blogs. There are reasons which seen to keep cropping up, but then again life happens. So... here folks is today's installment, I hope you like it. It is special for reasons explained at the end of this blog.
Much has been said here in the past few months about the first bloody days of July 1863 and the famous battles at Little Round Top and Pickett's charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. In those blogs is was noted that the July 2 famous downhill bayonet charge of Colonel Chamberlain's famous 20th Maine, including many Canadians, had played a major role in the winning of a battle that, had it gone the other way, there would have been no need for Pickett and thousands of Confederate to be slaughtered on the next day of battle.
The war could have been turned on those days, ended much sooner but with the results that to the south of Canada there would today be probably two countries and not one Union.
Well that was not to be.
Move forward another 17 months and into history pops the USS Agawam pictured above at the left. Several Cdns served on that vessel and three would become heroes, two with the Medal of Honor and a third, and officer and national hero, gave his life. Later his name was kept alive with not one or two ot three..BUT SIX war ships. His name was Sam Preston from the Toronto/London area of Ontario. Much will be said about him in future blogs in this space.
Both the Naval and Army commanders of the day lay claim to coming up with an idea to finally end the war by destroying Fort Fisher and finally tying the end to the famous General Scott Anaconda noose to encircle the rebel states and thus cut off all support inbound of supplies and then end the UNCIVIL WAR once and for all.
Lt Preston of the Agawam and sailors Garvin and Neil became part of the plan to have about 15 men go on a suicide mission so dangerous that many apparently wrote letters home and did up their wills. The plan called for their stripping down the old decrepit naval vessel called the USS Louisiana of anything wothewhile and then loading it up with 10 barrels of about 50 lbs of gun powder each, towing into the shores close to the montrous fort and letting the tide carry it up to the shore line and then blow the vessel and thus pound a whole big enough inside of the fort to throw all inside into a state of confusion as thousands of northern troops entered and captured it and all still left standing.
The USS Louisiana, pictured on the right was sent 100 miles away to get stripped down and the gun powder was put in place and then the floating bomb, that could blow at any spark and sent all the crew to smitherines, was then sailed back back 100 miles. It was then on the right night, set to have the charges blown, sailed her along the side of the fort, fuses lit, and crews rowing the hell away before she did blow.
Sounded great. But most so sounding don't quite make it. Like this one.
Most of the fuses did not go off. The winds blew much of the powder away. The night light was too bright and so the vessel had to be pulled back and wait a few days, then sent in again. But still there was so much light that it had to be anchored about triple the distance away than that planned. And the tides did their best to further hep the Southern forces by seeing to it the the Louisiana drifted still father away. When the boom came... it was little more than a big bang. Though it could still be heard 20 miles away. But there was no damage to the fort.
Never the less Canadians John Neil and William Garvin were awarded Medals of Honor as were the rest of the crews but the officers could not get one as the rules so precluded such awards till years later.
All of this took place a few days before Christmas in 1864. Much more can be read about this at past blogs at... http://www.canadianmedalofhonor.com/1/post/2012/12/could-this-be-the-biggest-pre-xmas-gift-ever.html
and at... http://www.canadianmedalofhonor.com/1/post/2013/05/dates-contested-but-newfoundlander-earns-medal-of-honor-and-possibly-served-32-years-in-us-military.html
and more at... http://www.canadianmedalofhonor.com/1/archives/10-2013/1.html
This is how the massive fortification looked in 1864-5 and in recent years at the right. The troops were let off their ships to the right of these images and marched up to the front to make their attack. This was to happen after advance troops including Lt Preston moved forward to cut ditches for the marines to occupy to protect the later arriving naval and marine formations of men. The army would also be attacking from land approaches to the back of the fort.
Although there is some confusion about dates of birth, place of birth and real name, it is generally accepted that Stephen Nunney was born a few days before Christmas in England. His image is at the left of the two shown here.
He however had claimed in early life a birth in Ireland. Records also indicate claims of another date of birth and the use of the name Claude Joseph Patrick Nunney, though it seems, truth be told, that his real name was Stephen Sargent Claude Nunney.
Stephen was one of 8 children in a very poor family. He lost his Mom at age five and soon became one of thousands in England that had to be rescued and sent off to Canada and elsewhere for adoption or taking in by the churches. Stephen would go through two homes in Ontario as a youth starting at about age 12 or 13 and when the Great War started, he had already served a few years in the militia. He would soon be enrolled and sent back overseas in one of the expeditionary forces, and would show his bravery at Vimy, where he would be awarded a Distinguished Service Cross. Months later at Avion he would be awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal and not long after he would be awarded the Distinguished Service Order, posthumously for actions in France. This would later be upgraded to a Victoria Cross on 14 December 1918.
More can be read about this hero at... http://www.canadianmedalofhonor.com/1/archives/09-2013/2.html
The above image to the right is of John Grady who would join the navy at age 17 and spend the next 30 years in the US Naval uniforms of the day. At retirement and having served in 4 different wars he would retire with the rank of a Naval Captain, and would be the highest ranking Canadian navl man in the US Navy to be awarded a Medal of Honor.
That would come to him when he was deployed as a Lt at Vera Cruz Mexixo when the president had sent about 7,000 men ashore to put down the latest of indurrrections there.
Grady, New Brunswick born on Xmas Day in 1872, was involved in one of about 30 actions that saw a naval officer work with the army and marines and would be the only naval officer in those 30 actions that ended up with a MOH. In WW1 he added the Naval Cross to his proud chest.
More can be read about Grady at
There will be more on these heroes next Wednesday. Yup Wednesday... NOT MONDAY.
Monday had now been set aside for me to get back to doing some more very indepth research on all these heroes. Much time over the last year has been dedicated to this space and effective next week, the blog will be run only twice a week during most weeks, unless something needs spectial mention ASAP. They will run from now on, on Wednesday and Friday and the deadline also needs to be adjusted slightly, moving a bit later..from 4 pm to 6 pm.
Hope this works for all of you.
And by the way, I almost forgot to mention that...its time to say...
Well, sort off. I'm not quite there yet. But my blog is.
Today is the 200th and I truly hope you are enjoying it as much as I am writing it.
Over the past 13 months I have been blessed by having quite a few people come forth because of this column to share many an interesting story. Some of topic, but life goes on. Many with pictures and stories and documents about some of the heroes I have been researching for 13 years. Authors have contacting me, there have been talks of documentaries about this work and some exhibits have been or are being creating listing or using some of my materials.
But most of all, over the past year the blog has opened many doors leading to yet more discoveries about these heroes.
And to boot a few of you, well many of you, have sent in much encouraging comments and these have been much appreciated. This labour of love hopes to be continued but without financial support, you positive comments and the stream of new information coming my way are what keep me going.
Please continue to enjoy the ride, ask some of your friends to come along for the journey, and keep dropping me those notes and tidbits of information. And if any of you have an urge to jump into the fray and would like on some little research projects in your area about any of these fellows, I'd love to hare from you as well.
In the mean time, I hopefully we will both be facing this same screen next week.
cheers, and thanks for a great year of support to one and all, and to one and all a good night.. hehe