Posts Tagged ‘Medal of Honor’

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Chaplains Hill and Monuments

On today’s bike ride I rode to Arlington National Cemetery because I had not been there for awhile, and because there is always something new to me to discover there. And as I was walking through the cemetery I saw some unusual gravestones, four of them together on the top of a small hill, that had large brass plaques on them. So naturally I went over to see them better and find out what they are.

It turns out they are on the top of what is called Chaplains Hill, which is located in Section 2 of the cemetery. And the four gravestones are actually cenotaphs, which are monuments erected in honor of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere, especially commemorating people who died in a war. The cenotaphs are dedicated to the memory of chaplains who have served in the United States Armed Forces.The four monuments on Chaplains Hill are to those lost in World War I, to Protestant Chaplains, to Catholic Chaplains, and to Jewish Chaplains, were dedicated at different times over almost a century.

The first of the four cenotaphs was dedicated on May 5, 1926, by chaplains who served in World War I. The monument honored the twenty-three chaplains who died in that war. Two quotations are inscribed on the cenotaph: “Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends,” and “To You From Falling Hands We Throw The Torch – Be Yours To Hold It High.”

The second cenotaph is a memorial to the 134 Protestant Chaplains who died in World Wars I and II. It was dedicated on October 26, 1981, and the inscription reads: “To The Glory of God And The Memory Of The Chaplains Who Died In Services Of Their Country.”

A cenotaph to the 83 Catholic Chaplains who died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam was dedicated and placed on Chaplains Hill on May 21, 1989. The monument is inscribed: “May God Grant Peace To Them And To The Nation They Served So Well.”

The remaining cenotaph is dedicated to 14 Jewish Chaplains who died while serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, and was dedicated October 24, 2011. One of the inscriptions on the monument reads: “Dedicated to the Jewish chaplains who have served our country in the United States Armed Forces. May the memory of those who perished while in service be a blessing.”

Additionally, among the individuals honored at Arlington National’s Chaplains Hill include: the Army’s first Chief of Chaplains, Colonel John T. Axton of World War I; World War II’s Chief of Chaplains William A. Arnold, who was the first Chaplain to make General; and Major Charles Joseph Watters who served in Vietnam and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on November 19, 1967. Unarmed, Watters was rendering aid to fallen comrades, disregarding his own safety when he was killed by a bomb explosion. Watters is one of eight members from the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps who have been awarded the Medal of Honor: four from the Civil War; one from the Boxer Rebellion; two from the Vietnam War; and one from the Korean War.

Also honored are four U.S. Army chaplains who in 1943 gave up their life jackets and prayed together when their transport ship, the USAT Dorchester, was torpedoed eighty miles south of Greenland. The chaplains came from different faiths and backgrounds. John P. Washington was a Catholic Priest from Kearny, New Jersey; Rabbi Alexander D. Goode was a native of York, Pennsylvania; Clark V. Poling was a minister in the Reformed Church in America at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York; and George L. Fox, a decorated World War I veteran, was a Methodist minister in Gilman, Vermont.

Chaplains have the rank of a military commissioned officer and serve the dual roles of religious leader and staff officer, but do not possess the duties or responsibilities of command. Service regulations further prohibit chaplains from bearing arms and classify chaplains as noncombatants. Article 24 of the Geneva Convention identifies chaplains as protected personnel in their function and capacity as ministers of religion. But despite this, 419 military chaplains have died in wars since the founding of this country. The breakdown, by war, is as follows: 25 in the Revolutionary War; one each in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War; 117 on Union side, 41 on the Confederacy side during the Civil War; 23 in World War I; 182 in World War II, 13 in the Korean War; 15 in the war in Vietnam, and one in Iraq/Afghanistan.
 

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National Medal of Honor Day

Today is National Medal of Honor Day. Designated by the United States Congress in 1990, it is observed annually on March 25th, and is dedicated to all recipients of this country’s highest military honor. The Medal of Honor, occasionally referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, is awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty, and is awarded to U.S. military personnel only. Awarded by the President in the name of the U.S. Congress, there are three versions of the medal, one for the Army, one for the Navy, and one for the Air Force.  Members of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard receive the Navy version.

In recognition of today’s designation, I rode to Arlington National Cemetery on this lunchtime bike ride to visit the gravesite of not only one of the most famous recipients of the Medal of Honor, but also one of the most decorated combat soldiers in American history – U.S. Army First Lieutenant Audie Murphy.

Audie Leon Murphy was born was born on June 20, 1925, the seventh of twelve children born to Emmett Berry Murphy and his wife Josie Bell Killian, a sharecropper family in Kingston, Texas. After his father deserted the family when Murphy was in the fifth grade, he dropped out of school and got a job picking cotton for a dollar a day to help support the family. He also hunted small game to help feed them, which caused him to become very proficient with a rifle. When Murphy was 16 years old, his mother passed away, and he was forced to watch as his brothers and sisters were doled out to an orphanage or to relatives.

Murphy had always wanted to be in the military, and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, he tried to enlist. However, the military turned him down for being underage. Eventually his sister provided an affidavit falsifying when he was born. He applied to the Marine Corps, but was told that at 5’-5” tall he was too short, and underweight as well, weighing in at only 110 pounds.  He was just too small.   However, Murphy was finally accepted by the Army at the end of June in 1942.

Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945. He then led a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition. He was only 19 years old at the time. By the time the war came to an end, Murphy had gone on to become America’s most-decorated soldier, earning an unparalleled 28 medals. In fact, he received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as medals for heroism from both France and Belgium. Murphy had been wounded three times during the war, yet, in May 1945, when victory was declared in Europe, he had still not reached his 21st birthday.

Murphy returned to a hero’s welcome in the United States, with parades, banquets, and speeches. He was then persuaded by actor James Cagney to embark on an acting career. Murphy arrived in Hollywood with, by his own account, no talent.  Nevertheless, he went on to make more than 40 films. He also published a novel of his wartime memoirs, entitled To Hell and Back, and went on to portray himself in the 1955 movie version of the book.  Honored in civilian life like he was in the military, Murphy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

After eventually retiring from acting, he began a career in private business. But the venture was unsuccessful, and in 1968 he was forced into bankruptcy. A few years later, Murphy died in a private plane crash near Roanoke, Virginia on May 28, 1971, at the age of 46.

Audie Murphy was buried with full military honors in Section 46 of Arlington National Cemetery, just across Memorial Drive west of the Memorial Amphitheater. A flagstone walkway has been constructed to accommodate the large number of people who stop to pay their respects to this hero. At the end of a row of graves, his tomb is marked by a simple, white, government-issue tombstone, which lists only a few of his many military decorations.  Also, the headstones of Medal of Honor recipients buried at Arlington National are normally decorated in gold leaf.  But at Murphy’s request, his stone remain plain and inconspicuous, like that of an ordinary soldier.  The stone is considered by some to be the same as he was considered by the Marine Corps, too small.

Arlington National Cemetery is also the final resting place of 407 other Medal of Honor recipients, which includes the Medals of Honor awarded to the World War I Unknown, World War II Unknown, Korean War Unknown and Vietnam War Unknown buried at The Tomb of the Unknowns. The Vietnam War unknown was disinterred in 1998 and identified as Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie, but the medal remains at Arlington National. The last Medal of Honor recipient to be buried at Arlington National was Army Lieutenant Colonel Don C. Faith, who died during the Korean War. His remains were not recovered until 2012, and he was interred at the cemetery April 17, 2013.

So on this National Medal of Honor Day, take a moment to think about the 3,497 military members who have received the award.  And if you run into any of the 78 recipients of the award who are currently alive, be sure to thank them.