The last two columns, a revisit on three of last year at this time, have again retold the story of the 27th Maine Volunteer Infantry of Civil War days. A unit that had their terms of enlistment expire, and were asked to stay behind. Some did, most did not. Those that did were promised a Medal of Honor under the rules of the day. But bureaucrats screwed it up and sent a medal to almost 860. Only about 300 were actually given to the qualified, and the rest safely secured, but after death of the Colonel of the regiment they were found and distributed to many unqualified. Over the years several attempts to make all of the medals and others totaling 911, illegal, and demands came left and right to cancel them all.
That sums up the last two columns. But before I write today's I want to make a point of noting that I have done considerable research into this topic as it involved over a dozen Canadians in the 27th Maine. My opinions are my own and, hopefully reflect those of many others. I'd further note that any advocacy with regards to this unit is no doubt most unpopular and thus, almost unheard of.
In this regard I am not speaking on behalf of any organization. But having said this I am most proud to claim that the purge was not legal for a variety of reasons. Several of these highlighted in the last two blogs, and more to come today. Though about 500 of the medals were not issued correctly, their method of removal was as incorrect, and thus illegal, again on several grounds. The removal of the other 300 was doubly illegal. If such is possible!
But on with some details, that most in the know about MOH matters, seem to know little. I base this on the fact that I have held many, many, many, talks about this unit over the past dozen and more years with folks that ought to know more about the subject than they do.
I'll start back one day before the Battle of Gettysburg started. On 30 June 1863, after just over 300 soldiers of the 27th Maine volunteered to remain to protect the country's capital the commanding general issued an order that set the seriousness of matters of the day in their perspective. He wrote to his corps commanders to say that they... "are authorized to order the instant death of any soldier who fails in his duty at this hour." That of course applied to the 300 men of the 27th and all others. Seems serious enough, despite the usual lack of basic understanding of the events to unfold, and conveyed in a flippant attitude by many speaking on the subject.
Now jumping forward to 1893, it is then reported that there were less than 150 Medal of Honor recipients from Civil War days still alive. Add another 20 years and it was reported that the average age of a CW veterans was then about 75 years old. I give these numbers to show that any adverse reaction towards the 27th medals were actions against men, mostly long dead and the rest probably about 80 yrs of age. Seniors that most countries would treat hopefully with kid gloves instead of boxing gloves.
In April of 1916 the US government complied with many of the wishes of the Medal of Honor Legion. It created what it called a Medal of Honor Roll, similar to that of many world countries for their highest heroes of military bravery. Entry to the list would allow the man a small pension, over and above any others they may have been entitled to. But is had caveats. He had to be no longer in the military. He had to be at least 65 years of age. His medal had to be awarded for action in the face of the enemy, had to be voluntary, over and above the call of duty, and had to involve actions that included distinguished and conspicuous gallantry or intrepidity at the risk of his life.
Sure sounds most honourable until you read between the lines and realize that many medals awarded over the past 50 or more years had been issued under another set or rules far less stringent. Rules that nevertheless met the requirements of law of that day.
In short, any new list would eliminate all the men of the 27th and others totalling over 900. But the new rules did not call for the rescinding of any medals outright, just their devious and cruel disappearance from official lists.
Then matters fell even farther down the slippery slope of abuse.
In June of 1916 the federal government was getting prepared to join the Great War effort. In support of this Congress passed the National Defence Act. At section 122 the Act called for the creation of a board of five eminent Generals to review the whole Medal of Honor situation. Their direction was to look at every MOH issued to date to determine if they were awarded legally for actions involving bravery in the face of the enemy. (A requirement not in existence for over 50 years.) If the Board found any that failed the NEW TEST for qualification, their name was to be struck from the Medal of Honor Roll. Further, once so determined as failing the new test, anyone caught wearing the medal or even displaying the medal in public could be charged of committing a misdemeanor. Further yet, the Board was ordered to take steps to recover the medals failing the new test.
If that is not offensive enough, consider further this point. Section 122 was never in the Bill that went before Congress. It did not add the section. Bureaucrats later added it, did not send it back to Congress for approval, and saw to it that it was forced onto the Board to implement. It further gave the board no funding to so recover any medals.
The Board was given six months to review 2,625 cases. In the midst of this work the Commission of Pensions started its own Honor Roll list and added 129 names to it, despite the fact that those and many others wear still before the Board for its perusal. The Adjutant General of the day, on learning this, quashed the list stating that the Board ought to have the time to do its work first. But then along came the Judge Advocate General saying all is well and life was pumped back into the list.
The Board apparently met every two weeks from 16 October till early February of 1917. Details of their work is difficult to locate. But one reference says that in one meeting lasting 1 hour and 55 minutes they heard 33 cases, in another of 2 hours there heard 44 and in a third of 2 hours and 10 minutes they heard a whopping 82 separate cases. If this is any sort of an average... they spent about 2 minutes on a case of the most important war heroes the country ever produced. Cases were many of these men wore medals with immense pride for half a century. And that left no time whatsoever to deal with the paperwork involved on the board research into the task at hand, the compiling of and forwarding of various letters etc.
And one of these letters was written by Lt. General Miles, the senior General and Chair of the Board to the Secretary of War. He pleaded about the unfairness of implementing new rules and making them retroactive and effecting so many heroes. He argued that no army in the world would perform as they were so ordered. He brought to the attention of the Secretary the very fact that section 122 was not even part of the bill voted on by Congress and that the whole matter had caused the board considerable grief and ever one of them being men whom all of course had ample military backgrounds.
General Miles also noted that the injustice could be altered by an amendment put before Congress that would rule that new rules do not apply to old cases. He added that were a medal was legally issued, according to the rules day, it must remain as valid as on that day.
Henry Cabot Lodge would rise in the Congress to argue the points made by the Board and was quieted by a ruling on a point of order, and section 122 (not even voted on) was never reversed.
In February of 1917 the Board wrapped up its work by issuing a final report that saw 555 27th names of soldiers who did not remain of duty, 307 who did, 29 members of the Funeral Guard for the protection of President Lincoln's coffin after he was assassinated, 5 Indian Scouts, Assistant Surgeon Mary Walker and several other having their names struck of the list and thus having their medals rescinded.
The Board also had written about 140 letters to those then ruled unqualified to return their medals. Many were already dead. Some did not even know that they had been awarded a medal because the government did not think it important enough to find them and tell the so.
Still later the orders to return the medals were rescinded and orders issued to send them back in the cases were honourable men... or families... complied with the illegal orders of the government of the day.
Several years ago the actions of two Presidents reversed the rescinded medals for Mary Walker and the six native scouts and added them back into lists they should never have been removed from. Perhaps some day they might have the decency to fix the remaining 905, or at the very least have those 27th 550 or so rescinded as a result of court action rather than political whim of the day.
I again remind readers to re-read the past blogs on this subject wherein you will read about it being illegal for one President to revisit the decisions of an earlier President and that no medals could be quashed..by law without the due processes of law... read COURT ACTION by those authorized at law to hear evidence and ALLOW THE VICITIM an opportunity to be heard before being judged.
This story has to be one of the worst tragedies in military award circles around the world for a century. It is a travesty of justice to all the heroes involved, their families ,the public and those wearing theuniforms of today or coming forth tomorrow for the same suit of armour. a burden that perhaps ought to be taken up by those wearing the medal today.