The original Medal of Honor awarded to one of Maine’s most famous sons, Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine Infantry regiment, for his heroics at the Battle of Gettysburg has been discovered and given to a historical organization in the state.
Chamberlain’s Medal of Honor, awarded in 1893 for his actions in the famous 1863 battle, was given Monday to the Pejepscot Historical Society, which owns the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick, Maine.
The individual who donated the award requested anonymity. He had found it in the back of a book he had purchased “several years ago” at a sale held by First Parish Church in Duxbury, Mass., according to the society.
Chamberlain’s last surviving descendant, granddaughter Rosamond Allen, left her estate to that church upon her death 13 years ago, according to the Bangor Daily News.
Chamberlain was a professor at Bowdoin College when he enlisted in the Union army in 1862 and was appointed Lt. Colonel of the 20th Maine.
He saw action at Fredericksburg, where the Union suffered at a catastrophic defeat and Chamberlain was forced to spend the night of Dec. 13, 1862, on the freezing battlefield, using the bodies of the fallen for shelter while listening to bullets strike nearby corpses.
Chamberlain was promoted to colonel in June 1863, just prior to Gettysburg.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor for “daring heroism and great tenacity” in leading the 20th Maine in its crucial defense of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, a critical stand in the Federal effort to hold back the Confederate onslaught.
McGarity, a technical sergeant, was positioned with the rest of the 99th Infantry Division in the Ardennes Forest in December 1944 when Hitler mounted a final desperate offensive, seeking to break through the region and make for the North Sea.
Hitler believed if the plan were successful he might be able to negotiate a separate peace with the US and Great Britain, dividing them from the Soviets and allowing the Nazis to then concentrate on fighting the Red Army to the east.
Allied forces, which had been moving toward Germany after the D-Day invasion of France, were caught unaware by the counteroffensive and were initially pushed back.
The battle proved the costliest of the war for the US in terms of casualties with 89,000 killed, wounded, captured of missing. German losses were comparable, but the Nazis could less afford the loss of both men and materiel that the battle ultimately claimed.
More than 60 years after Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith Jr., died at the brutal Battle of Chosin Reservoir in late 1950, the Medal of Honor recipient’s remains have been recovered and interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Faith, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, was only identified last year.
The Washington, Ind., native was buried at Arlington last week.
His only child, Barbara “Bobbie” Broyles, who was just 4 years old at the time of her father’s death, attended the ceremony.
“I’m incredulous,” she told FoxNews.com. “He’s been missing for 62 years and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing that he’s been found.”
With the onset of the Korean War in the summer of 1950, Faith, then 32, was dispatched to help stop the communist invasion of the southern part of the nation.
As someone who believes that a society is judged at least in part by the respect it shows its dead, there’s little I find more depressing than a forgotten, dilapidated cemetery.
Perhaps even harder to stomach coming across the graves of veterans that have fallen into disrepair.
To see the final resting places of men who once put their lives on the line – and sometimes gave those lives, in defense of their country – and who are now effectively consigned to oblivion does a great disservice to our nation.
Apparently, others feel the same, as well.
Witness Joseph Hoesch and Martin Neamon, a pair of Vietnam-era veterans from Pennsylvania.
When the pair visited the Chartiers Cemetery plot in Carnegie, Pa., where 133 Union veterans are interred, on a grey day in November 2010, they found it disheartening, according to KDKA.
William Shemin was just 19 years old when, over the space of three days in August 1918 during the pivotal Second Battle of the Marne, he crossed the battlefield three times to rescue fellow American soldiers.
On the third effort during the battle, in which the Allies stopped the last German offensive of World War I, he was wounded in the head.
But with his commanding officers either hurt or dead, Shemin refused medical attention and led the platoon out of danger before finally collapsing unconscious.
“He distinguished himself by excellent control of his platoon at every stage of the action and by the thoroughness at great personal danger at which he evacuated the wounded,” according to the battle report submitted three months later by the division commander.
The Bayonne, N.J., native’s heroics made him the recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest combat award, with his award being signed by Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force.
Now, nearly a century later, the Army will consider whether Shemin actually deserved the Medal of Honor, but was denied because he was Jewish.
Charles P. Murray Jr., who was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack that turned back a 200-strong German unit during action in Northwestern France in late 1944 and later spent his last 40 years living in Columbia, died Friday at age 89.
Murray, who grew up in Wilmington, NC, had finished his third year at the University of North Carolina when he was drafted into the Army in 1942.
By October 1944, Murray, then 23 years old, was serving as a replacement platoon leader for Company C of the 20th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division.
The division had landed in Saint-Tropez on the southern coast of France following months earlier and was pushing northward towards Germany. On Dec. 8, 1944, Murray became company commander.
Vernon Baker, who was the only living black veteran awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in World War II, died last week at age 90.
Baker was one of seven black soldiers honored with the Medal of Honor in 1997 for actions in World War II.
The long-overdue recognition came after a 1993 study commissioned by the US Army described systematic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding medals during World War II.
At the time, no Medals of Honor had been awarded to black soldiers who served in World War II. After an exhaustive review of files, the study recommended that several black Distinguished Service Cross recipients have their awards upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
John Finn, one of the first Americans to take up arms against the Japanese when they bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts, died last week at age 100.
Finn was assigned to Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on that fateful Sunday nearly 70 years ago when he found himself firing at Japanese planes from an exposed position for more than two hours despite being hit 21 times by bomb and bullet fragments.
Finn was credited by some with single-handedly shooting down a Japanese aircraft, but he would later say, “I can’t honestly say (for sure) I hit any, but I shot at every damn plane I could see.”
Finn stayed at his post until he received a direct order to seek medical attention. He later said that when he got to the sick bay, he saw many men worse off than he was, so he returned to the armory and spent the rest of the day and night supervising the repair of damaged weapons in preparation for whatever came next, according to a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“I know this sounds corny, but on December 7, I was just doing my duty and what I had been trained and paid to do since I was 17 years old,” he said in a 1984 interview.
During the attack, Finn secured a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a training stand in an exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy machine-gun fire from Japanese planes, his Medal of Honor citation says.
“Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy’s fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety,” it continues.
In military circles, Finn was comparable to a rock star, according to the Union-Tribune. “People clamored for a handshake or to have a picture taken with him wherever he went.”
The FBI Friday presented the Medal of Honor Museum in Charleston with two Medals of Honor earned during the Civil War, but there appears to be some uncertainty as to whom one of the decorations was originally awarded.
According to The Charleston Post and Courier, the medals were awarded to Thomas Jenkins, a Navy seaman aboard the USS Cincinnati, and George Emmons, “who served in two separate enlistments, each time with one of his sons,” according to the paper.
While the Medal of Honor Society lists Jenkins as serving on board the USS Cincinnati during the siege of Vicksburg in May 1863, it has no record of a George Emmons receiving the Medal of Honor. Nor does Wikipedia list a George Emmons under its list of Civil War Medal of Honor recipients.
A search of the Internet shows there was indeed a George Emmons who gained famed during the War Between the States, according to the website Destroyer History Foundation.
Born in 1881, Emmons first command in the 1861-65 conflict was the side-wheel steamer Hatteras and later the R. R. Cuyler of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. In Hatteras, blockading Florida’s Cedar Keys in January 1862, he captured a Confederate battery and destroyed six ships.
At Pass Christian, Mississippi in April and along the Louisiana coast into July, he destroyed or captured about 20 more, according to the website.
Emmons was promoted to captain in February 1863 and served as fleet captain off Charleston in Admiral Dahlgren’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron flagship Philadelphia from August to November 1864.
He then returned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron to assume command of the second division. In December into the following spring, Capt. Emmons reported the capture or destruction another 20 blockade runners and in April, participated in perhaps the last naval action of the war—the attempted escape of the ram William H. Webb, according to the website.
However, there is no record of this particular Emmons, who was later promoted to rear admiral, ever receiving the Medal of Honor.
Tracking down the original recipient of a Civil War-era Medal of Honor may be more difficult than it might seem at first blush. A total of 1,522 Medals of Honor were awarded for action during the conflict, compared to just 464 for World War II and 246 for the Vietnam War. In total, 3,468 medals have been awarded.
The FBI recovered the stolen medals, but did not disclose details of the investigation, according to The Post and Courier. The FBI investigates stolen and counterfeit Medals of Honor nationwide.
The two Civil War medals delivered to the museum, located onboard the USS Yorktown, bring the collection there to 26. The Medal of Honor Museum keeps only one each from the Army, the Navy and the Air Force on display, according to operations director Victoria Kueck. She said the others stay in safes, the paper reported.
In 2004, someone stole seven medals from Patriots Point by prying the top lid from a glass casing. Since then, the museum installed security cameras, motion detectors and glass sensors.
A total of 16 Medals of Honor were awarded to black troops during the War Between the States. Fourteen of those came during a single action, the Battle of New Market Heights.
Fought Sept. 29, 1864, in Henrico County, Va., the Battle of New Market Heights is among the lesser-known engagements of the war, but was crucial to people’s perception of the US Colored Troops, according to Mary Koik, deputy director of communications for the Civil War Preservation Trust.
Today, the battle site is in danger, Koik told The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.
That’s why the Civil War Preservation Trust recently ranked New Market Heights among America’s 10 most-endangered battlefields.
New Market Heights was part of a larger operation planned and directed by Union Major General Benjamin F. Butler, who’d gained infamy for his brutal rule in New Orleans earlier in the war.
With an eye on capturing Richmond, Ulysses S. Grant approved a plan sending Butler’s Army of the James against the Confederate defenses protecting the Southern capital. If Butler’s men succeeded, the war could be over in a matter of weeks, or even days.
The campaign involved more than 20,000 Union troops, including 3,000 blacks serving in units designated US Colored Troops.
After initial Union successes at New Market Heights and Fort Harrison, the Confederates rallied and contained the breakthrough. Confederate leader Robert E. Lee reinforced his lines north of the James and, on Sept. 30, he counterattacked unsuccessfully.
The Federals entrenched, and the Confederates erected a new line of works cutting off the captured forts.
The Battle of New Market Heights became one of the most heroic engagements involving black soldiers.
The Colored Troops division of the Eighteenth Corps, after being pinned down by Confederate artillery fire for about 30 minutes, charged the earthworks and rushed up the slopes of the heights.
During the hour-long engagement the division suffered tremendous casualties, losing more than 800 men in one hour. Total casualties for both sides were estimated at more than 4,000.
“This is a story that needs to be told, about a hugely important place,” Koik said. “What we’re trying to do is to start to get the battle some of the recognition that it deserves and to get some of its land protected.”
For sheer heroism, New Market Heights eclipses the far-better-known story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry depicted in the movie “Glory,” said Hari Jones, assistant director of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington.
The 1989 film ends with the 54th’s valiant but unsuccessful attack on Fort Wagner at Morris Island, SC, which guarded the southern entrance to Charleston’s harbor.
Though its historic significance is indisputable, no part of the New Market Heights battlefield has been protected by any preservation organization, including the trust and the National Park Service, Koik told The Free Lance-Star.