But now back to the business of blogging.
As the titles suggests, I thought I'd take a few columns to wrap up the year in remembrance of deeds performed or births and deaths of medal recipients that you have read about for the most part here in past blogs. But those selected in these next columns all occurred around Xmas time. There are others but space and time limits a review this week.
The picture on the right is a rather youthful image of Mr Lewis Millett whom you have hopefully read much in this space over the past year.
Lewis deserted the US National Guard upon hearing the President announcing the US would not be sending troops off to WW11 (but later did of course.) He came to Canada, joined up, got trained and sent off to war at London and then Europe. When the Americans joined in the conflict Lewis switched over to the American uniform and was soon of to South Africa becoming a hero with numerous medals and promotions. After the war he returned home got more education and then rejoined and went off to Korea and then Vietnam. His uphill charge using the bayonet drills learned in Canadian basic training, was put to good use in his commanding what has been claimed to have been the last American bayonet charge in US History. It would result in his earning the Medal of Honor. He often credited Cdn training for this skill.
Lewis retired as a full Colonel many years later and passed away in November 2009, but buried in California in early December of that year. His family granted me permission to attend his funeral and I spent about 2 weeks in California attending his and another, and don't believe I have ever attending any such event with more formality in my life. I also was quite privileged to be able to scramble through the crowds to meet five or six MOH recipients at the Millett service and chat with many other officials while also doing other research in the state at the time.
I was also allowed to spend several hours with his family in his family home and not only get to see, but for the first time in over a dozen years of research and looking at pictures of medals, , actually held the Colonel's medals. The family joked that they were so concerned about my holding these that they wanted me to go through a metal detector before leaving the property. Hehe.
The Colonel was a tough soldier and clearly a no nonsense man who was used to getting his way...one way or another! The family tells me that at one point the medal for action in Korea was either damaged or lost. So like a good soldier he called up and made it known that another had to be issued. He apparently did this a number of times and then decided it was time to show his expression of sloppy service for the apparent inaction he was getting.
When he attended a most formal military event wearing a CIVIL WAR version of the medal, many looked at him rather strangely, as did a rather senior General, who chuckled.. but nevertheless got on the phone and VERY soon thereafter the replacement arrived at his doorstep. Hmmmm! I have a most curious picture of Lewis wearing that CW version.
The fellow in the above picture, and on the left is youthful Cpl Rodolfo P Hernandez, also a Korean war Medal of Honor recipient. He and I met briefly at the Millett funeral at Riverside California in 2009. I obtained his autograph at that time as well as about 5 other recipients. At a later reception I again met him for a very brief conversation and what struck me about this man was that he has such kind words for his departed friend Lewis. "Rudy" as he is nicknamed, was a very quiet man, and a man of very few words. Only in the past weeks, and some 4 years later, that I discovered why.
There were 500 in the room gathering autographs of about 45 recipients. The event was spread out over a few hours. However the constant stream of adoring service men and women, current and past, and civilians all wanting to get a handshake an autograph and a photo no doubt had to be quite an ordeal for each one of the heroes at Gettysburg.
I was so pleased to have had another chance to say hello to Rudy and show him my respects for him and his fellow heroes that day. I was even surprised when both he and daughter remembered meeting me four years earlier.
But that memory may have now left Rudy. He sadly passed away just a few days before Christmas this year, and now joins so many others of these heroes that have passed over the last year.
If you have a chance to meet a Meal of Honor recipient, do not let it slip by, as you may not get a 2nd to thank them for their services and give them the salute they so very much deserve.
So who was Rudy? Glad you asked!
Rudy was a Hispanic American, one of only 44 in the entire history of the medal to be so awarded. His would come to him from actions in Korea where almost 75% of the 136 Medals of Honor were awarded for actions that cost the life of the recipient. Rudy was about to be zipped into a body bag and almost upped that percentage. He was only 19. Throughout the history of the medal, the Hispanics have been there... from Civil War days to Afghansitan they have proudly worn the US uniform and come home with one of these highly prized and most valued gems.
When Rudy's platoon was badly overrun by a superior numbered force using mortars, machine guns, rifles and grenades, most had to follow the orders to pull back... and lose ground because of lack of ammunition. But Rudy and another fellow held back in their fox hole and continued to do their bit. Then the rifle jammed. so.. although already hit numerous times, he put the bayonet on and as the blood poured out of his head he push forwards throwing grenades and bayonetting anyone getting in his way. His actions so moved the rest of the platoon, it gather up the steam to do a counter attack and they regained the ground just lost.
The next morning Rudy was found in a pile of six dead enemy. The medic pronounced him dead and as they were putting him into a body bag the medic saw some movement in a finger... so Rudy was rushed off to an aid station and then a hospital where he did not regain conscience for over a month. And that would just be the beginning of what would become many years of medical help and many more in therapy. But he lived to tell his story. When the president draped the MOH around his neck Rudy could barely speak a few words. He had lost all use of one arm and in fact when his helmet was blown off, it took with it a piece of his brain. It would be years before he could talk, or even walk.
But that did not stop him in later years rising to the challenge as a government advocate for his fellow vets.
These are the sorts of stories that come from our vets... on both sides of the border. And reason enough to stop them as we pass by and ask them for their story. And as important, to say thank you for what they have done so that you can sit at home and read and I can sit here and type this blog.