BY DUANE ALLEN VACHON, PH.D. We are back after the Christmas break with our articles featuring our brave men and women who are serving or have served in the American Armed Forces. Many of them have received America’s highest award for bravery, the “Medal of Honor”. The Citations for Medal of Honor recipients describe feats of courage, strength, and resilience. Recipients overcame the paralysis of fear, and in some cases, they persevered in spite of wounds that would normally be so painful as to be disabling. Some of these heroes willingly gave their lives for the sake of their buddies.
This year we are going to look at hero’s from my home state, Indiana. Before we share our first Hoosier hero I thought it might be interesting to share some facts about the Medal of Honor.
The earliest actions for which the Medal was awarded took place before the Civil War had even begun (Feb. 13-14, 1861). Bernard J.D. Irwin was an Assistant Surgeon in the Army when he voluntarily went to the rescue of 2d Lt. George N. Bascom who was trapped with 60 members of the 7th Infantry. Irwin and 14 men began the 100-mile trek to Bascom’s forces riding mules. After fighting and capturing Apaches along the way, as well as recovering stolen horses and cattle, Irwin reached Bascom’s forces and helped break the siege. The Medal of Honor was awarded to Irwin on Jan. 24, 1894 – more than 30 years after he performed his heroic deed.
There are three versions of the Medal of Honor: U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force. Members of the U.S. Marines Corps and U.S. Coast Guard are eligible to receive the Navy version. Each of the armed services maintains their own regulations governing the award.
Only one woman has received the Medal of Honor and her award was temporarily rescinded. President Andrew Johnson presented the Medal of Honor to Dr. Mary E. Walker on Nov. 11, 1865 for her work as a Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon in a series of battles from First Bull Run in 1861 to the Battle of Atlanta in 1864. Caught by Confederate troops and arrested as a spy, she also spent four months as a Prisoner of War. Although her award was rescinded along with hundreds of others in 1917, upon the passage of legislation that stated the medal could only be given to persons who had engaged in “actual combat with an enemy,” Walker’s Medal of Honor was restored on June 10, 1977 by President Jimmy Carter.
Because of her selfless service during the war, Dr. Mary E. Walker became the only woman in U.S. history to receive the Medal of Honor, which was rescinded in 1917 and restored in 1977.
The Medal of Honor recommendation process can take in excess of 18 months with intense scrutiny every step of the way because of the need for accuracy. The following organizations and individuals play key roles in the Army Medal of Honor recommendation process: the Soldier’s Chain of Command, a Member of Congress, Department of the Army Personnel Command, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Defense and the President.
Children of Medal of Honor recipients are not subject to quotas if they are qualified and desire to attend the U.S. military academies.
Medal of Honor recipients have uniform privileges, which allow them to wear their uniforms at any time or place they choose, unlike other military personnel or retirees.
Although not required by law or military regulation, service members are encouraged to salute Medal of Honor recipients as a gesture of respect and courtesy regardless of rank or status and, if the recipients are wearing the medal, whether or not they are in uniform. This is the only instance where a Soldier will receive a salute from members of a higher rank.
The Medal of Honor was signed into being by President Lincoln on July 25, 1862.
The FIRST MEDALS OF HONOR ever presented were awarded by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to 6 members of the legendary “Andrew’s Raiders” on March 25, 1863. In that group and the 4th person in history to be presented the award was ELIHU MASON who was born at Richmond Indiana.
Indiana has 75 Medal of Honor recipients. These medals were given for actions of bravery by Hoosiers in wars ranging from the Civil War to the Vietnam War.
Elihu H. Mason Captain United States Army
Elihu Harlam Mason (March 23, 1831 – September 24, 1896) a native of Richmond Indiana was a Union Army soldier in the American Civil War and a recipient of the United States military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions in the Great Locomotive Chase.
Mason joined the Army from Pemberville, Ohio in April 1861, and by April 1862 was serving as a sergeant in Company K of the 21st Ohio Infantry During that month, he volunteered for a raid into Confederate territory to disrupt rail transport in Georgia. The mission failed, and all of the raiders were captured. In June, eight of the men, including the raid leader, James J. Andrews, were executed as spies. The remaining raiders, including Mason, made an escape from the Confederate prison on October 16, 1862. Very ill at the time, Mason was unable to keep up with the other soldiers and, at his own urging, was eventually left behind and recaptured by the Confederates. He and five other recaptured raiders were released in a prisoner exchange the next year, on March 18. For his actions during the mission, he was awarded the newly created Medal of Honor one week after being exchanged, on March 25, 1863. He was the fourth person ever to receive the medal.
Mason later became a commissioned officer and reached the rank of captain. He fought in the Battle of Chickamauga where he was again captured by the Confederates. He was paroled in December 1864, and discharged in May 1865.
After the war, Mason returned to Pemberville, Ohio. He died at age 65 and was buried at Pemberville Cemetery.
Medal of Honor
Awarded for actions during the Civil War
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Elihu H. Mason, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on April, 1862, while serving with Company G, 21st Ohio Infantry, in action during the Andrew’s Raid in Georgia. Sergeant Mason was one of the 19 of 22 men (including two civilians) who, by direction of General Mitchell (or Buell), penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Georgia, in an attempt to destroy the bridges and track between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
General Orders: Date of Issue: March 25, 1863
Action Date: April, 1862
Company: Company K
Division: 21st Ohio Infantry
Hoosiers have much to be proud of, not only the 75 Medal of Honor recipients from Indiana and the thousands of Hoosiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their state and their country. Indiana is one of only four states that has a Medal of Honor Memorial that is recognized by the U.S. Congress.
The memorial is located on the north bank of the Central Canal, adjacent to Military Park, and consists of 27 glass panels set in concrete bases. Indiana Limestone in shades of buff, gray, and pink are also a part of the monument. The panels are arranged into 15 walls, each representing an armed conflict in which a Medal of Honor was awarded. The names of the recipients are etched into the glass. At the time of dedication, there were 3,436 Medal of Honor recipients etched into the monument.
While it is worth setting aside time to remember the extraordinary service and sacrifice symbolized by the Medal of Honor, it is even more important we share that legacy with current and future generations.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.
Duane A. Vachon PhD is a psychologist and a Secular Franciscan. He has several books published and has had hundreds of articles on social justice and spiritual issues published. His Doctoral thesis on ethics has set the standard at many universities. Reach Dr. Vachon at firstname.lastname@example.org