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Local Area has had More than its Share
Of Medals of Honor
By:LEO KELLEY, Staff writer November 14, 2002
ADA - Prior to the Civil War, the general sentiment in the United States was that medals for American soldiers were unnecessary. In fact, the only medal given to U.S. fighters was the Badge of Military Merit, established in 1782 by Gen. George Washington. The heart-shaped badge, made of purple cloth, became the Purple Heart in 1932.
In 1862, with the nation embroiled in Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Congress established the Medal of Honor to honor Union soldiers and to boost morale. Often called the Congressional Medal of Honor, it is America's highest military award.
Criteria for the Medal of Honor have been clearly defined since 1916: The deed of the honor must be "incontestable," witnessed by at least two people, and it must involve risk of life.
The criteria have so stringently applied since World War I as to make the medal almost impossible to win. As a result, the Medal of Honor has taken on almost mythical proportions, according to Dr. John C. Powell, author of "Oklahoma and the Medal of Honor."
At a Medal of Honor ceremony, President Harry Truman once stated, "I would consider it a greater honor to wear this medal than to be president of the United States."
Thousands of Oklahomans have participated in every major conflict involving the United States since 1917.
Three Sooners received the coveted Medal of Honor in World War I, 19 in World War II, and two in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The following area men are Medal of Honor recipients: Troy A. McGill, Ada; Harold L. Turner, Seminole; Ruben Rivers, Konawa; John R. Crews, Bowlegs; Richard M. McCool Jr., Tishomingo; and Larry S. Pierce, Wewoka.
Sgt. Troy A. McGill
McGill was assigned to Troop G, Fifth Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division, U.S. Army, on the Los Negros Islands on March 4, 1944.
Early in 1944 during World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur described the fighting in the Pacific as an attempt to "leapfrog" from island to island. By taking back the islands one by one from the Japanese, the Allies hoped to push them back to their own home islands where they would eventually run out of places to which they could retreat.
The Admiralty Islands off the coast of New Guinea were of particular importance to both sides. The islands served as launching points for Japanese attacks, both to the north of New Guinea and south to the Coral Sea.
On March 4, U.S. ships began bombarding the Admiralty Islands. On one of the islands in the chain - Los Negros - McGill gave his life for his country.
McGill's Citation for Bravery reads: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, above and beyond the call of duty, in action with the enemy at Los Negros Island, of the Admiralty group....
"In the early morning hours, Sergeant McGill, with a squad of eight men, occupied a revetment which bore the brunt of a furious attack by approximately (200) drink-crazed enemy troops. Although covered by a cross-fire from machine guns on their right and left flanks, he could receive no support from the remainder of our troops, stationed at his rear.
"All members of his squad were either killed or wounded, except for Sergeant McGill and one other man, whom he ordered to return to the next revetment. Courageously resolved to holding his position at all cost, (McGill) fired his weapon until it ceased to function. Then, with the enemy only five yards away, he charged from his foxhole in the face of certain death, and clubbed the enemy with his rifle in hand-to-hand combat until he was killed.
"At dawn, (105) enemy dead were found around his position. Sergeant McGill's intrepid stand was an inspiration to his comrades, and a decisive factor in the defeat of a fanatical enemy.
SSgt. Ruben Rivers
Rivers was a member of Company A, 761st Tank Battalion (Black Panthers), Third Army, U.S. Army.
Rivers' battalion, an all-black unit that Gen. George Patton had personally asked to help drive the Nazis out of France, was widely known as the Black Panthers. Rivers and his men were operating in the Bougaltroff area of Alsace-Lorraine, France.
His squad was ordered to take an area of buildings overlooking a strategically located bridge. Leading the charge, Rivers' tank crossed a railroad and hit a mine which severely damaged the tank, causing serious injury to Rivers' right thigh.
His white commanding officer, Capt. David Williams, ordered him evacuated and the medic to prepare a morphine injection to ease his pain. Rivers refused both.
Four days later, suffering from pain and infection, Rivers was with his unit when it was pinned down under a German assault. Rivers opened fire on the source of the enemy's tracers and exposed himself as a target so his comrades could retreat. He was killed instantly when an armor-piercing round penetrated the tank's turret.
Four days later, Williams submitted to senior officers his recommendation for awarding the Medal of Honor to Rivers. They met his request with skepticism and promptly "lost" the paperwork.
Rivers received the Silver Star for his actions in World War II. Williams vowed to continue to seek redress until Rivers received the nation's highest honor. His effort to reopen Rivers' case lasted more than 50 years.
More than 1 million black soldiers served in World War II, but until January, 1997, none had been granted the Medal of Honor. In fact, the statute of limitations for awarding the medal to World War II soldiers had expired in 1952.
After hearing Williams' story in the early 1990s, members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation, especially Sen. James M. Inhofe and Sen. Don Nickles, worked to rectify the injustice done to Rivers and other black soldiers.
Finally in 1995 a Senior Army Decorations Board re-examined a number of cases of heroism involving black soldiers in World War II.
As a result, Ruben Rivers received the Medal of Honor posthumously on Jan. 13, 1997.
The presentation to Rivers and six other black soldiers marked a long overdue tribute to seven brave soldiers serving in a segregated army.
SSgt. John R. Crews
Crews was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army near Lobenbacherhof, Germany, on April 8, 1945.
After fighting their way through France, and successfully countering the last major German offensive in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium (the Battle of the Bulge), the Allies finally invaded German territory.
By April 1945, Allied forces were progressing toward the German capital city of Berlin. Adolf Hitler, reduced to acts of desperation, called upon his still-loyal troops to give their all in defense of the fatherland.
Allied troops faced stiff resistance from German forces. On May 8, the Germans finally surrendered, and V-E Day (Victory in Europe) was declared. One month earlier on April 8, Sergeant John R. Crews won fame and honor near the German village of Lobenbacherhof.
Crews' Citation for Bravery read: "He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, ... near Lobenbacherhof, Germany. As his company was advancing toward the village under heavy fire, an enemy machine gun and automatic rifle, with rifle support, opened up on them from a hill on their right flank. Seeing that his platoon leaders had been wounded by the fire, Sergeant Crews, acting on his own initiative, rushed the strong-point with two men from his platoon.
"Despite the fact that one of these men was killed, and the other badly wounded, (Crews) continued his advance up the hill, in the face of terrific enemy fire. Single-handedly storming the well-dug-in position, he killed two of the machine-gun crew at point-blank range with his M-1 rifle, and wrested the gun from the hands of the German whom he had already wounded.
"With his rifle, he then charged the strongly-emplaced automatic rifle. Although badly wounded in the thigh by crossfire from the remaining enemy, he kept on, and silenced the entire position with his accurate and deadly rifle-fire.
"His actions so unnerved the remaining enemy soldiers that seven of them surrendered, and the others fled. (Sergeant Crews' heroism caused the enemy to concentrate on him, and permitted his company to move forward into the village."
Corp. Harold L. Turner
Corp. Harold Turner was assigned to Company F. 142nd Infantry, 36th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, near St. Etienne, France, Oct. 8, 1918, during World War I.
In September, 1918, Allied forces launched a series of assaults against German lines in northeastern France. In the Meuse-Argonne offensive alone, the Allies suffered 120,000 casualties. Because most of the offensives in World War I left men directly exposed to enemy fire, casualties were very high, even in that late stage of the war. During the last days of fighting in France, Turner - facing enemy machine guns - risked his life for his men and his country.
Turner's Citation for Bravery reads: "After his platoon had started the attack, Turner assisted in organizing a platoon consisting of the battalion scouts, runners and a detachment of Signal Corps.
"As second-in-command of this platoon, he fearlessly lead them forward through heavy enemy fire, continually encouraging the men. Later, he encountered deadly machine-gun fire, which reduced the strength of his command to just four men, and these were obliged to take shelter.
"The enemy machine-gun emplacement, 25 yards distant, kept up a continual fire from four machine guns. After the fire had shifted momentarily, ... Turner rushed forward with fixed bayonet, and charged the position alone, capturing the strongpoint with a complement of 50 Germans and four machine guns.
"Corp. Turner's) remarkable display of courage and fearlessness was instrumental in destroying the strongpoint, the fire from which had blocked the advance of his company.
Sgt. Larry S. Pierce
Pierce was a member of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 503rd Infantry, First Battalion (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade, U.S. Army.
Pierce was killed near Ben Cat, Republic of Vietnam, Sept. 20, 1965 during the Vietnam War.
American involvement in Vietnam began to escalate under President Lyndon Johnson. By April, 1965, the U.S. military presence in Vietnam stood at two divisions or 20,000 men. The troops were somewhat restricted in their freedom to attack the enemy, having authority to undertake offensive operations only within 50 clicks (kilometers) of their bases.
While leading a reconnaissance patrol in September, 1965, Pierce gave his life to save those of his men.
Pierce's Citation for Bravery reads "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of life above and beyond the call duty, (Sergeant) Pierce was serving as Squad Leader in a reconnaissance platoon when his patrol was ambushed by hostile forces.
"Through his inspiring leadership and personal courage, the squad succeeded in eliminating an enemy machine-gun, and routing the opposing force. While pursuing the fleeing enemy, the squad came upon a dirt road and, as the main body of his men entered the road, ... Pierce saved the lives of his men at the sacrifice of his life by throwing himself directly onto the mine as it exploded.
"Through his indomitable courage, complete disregard for his own safety, and profound concern for his fellow soldiers, he averted loss of life and injury to the members of his squad.
"Pierce's extraordinary heroism, at the cost of his life, is in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflects great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country."
Order of Precedence
United States Medals and Decorations
U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force
1. Medal of Honor (1862)
2. Distinguished Service Cross (1918)
3. Air Force Cross (1960)
4. Defense Distinguished Service Medal (1918)
5. Distinguished Service Medal (1918)
6. Silver Star (1918)
7. Defense Superior Service Medal (1976)
8. Legion of Merit (1942)
9. Distinguished Flying Cross (1926)
10. Soldier's Medal (1926)
11. Airman's Medal (1960)
12. Bronze Star (1942)
13. Joint Service Commendation Medal (1963)
14. Army Commendation Medal (1945)
15. Air Force Commendation Medal (1958)
16. Purple Heart (1782)
U.S. Navy and Marine Corps
1. Medal of Honor (1862)
2. Navy Cross (1919)
3. Defense Distinguished Service Medal (1970)
4. Distinguished Service Medal (1918)
5. Silver Star (1918)
6. Defense Superior Service Medal (1976)
7. Legion of Merit (1942)
8. Navy and Marine Corps Medal (1942)
9. Bronze Star (1942)
10. Meritorious Service Medal (1969)
11. Air Medal (1942)
12. Joint Service Commendation Medal (1967)
13. Navy Commendation Medal (1944)
14. Purple Heart (1782)
© 2002, by The Ada Evening News
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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