Collecting Medal of Honor Recipients

Featured in Autograph April 2009

Hiroshi Miyamura.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is presented to members of the United States Military who risk their lives “above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.” It is the highest military honor that can be awarded to a member of the Armed Forces. Of the 3,448 Medal of Honors awarded, 618 have been presented to the families posthumously. Almost half of all the recipients are from the Civil War.

The Medal of Honor has been awarded to all branches of the military including one Coast Guard recipient, Douglas Munro. There are 19 double recipients, one female recipient, Mary Walker, for her bravery at Bull Run, and 181 minority recipients. Today, only 98 recipients are living from the World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars. Four soldiers who served in Iraq and one who served in Afghanistan have received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

The first appearance of an individual medal given to a soldier for valor was established by then Gen. George Washington. The medal was called the Badge of Military Merit and was given to any soldier who engaged in “any singularly meritorious action.” The Badge of Military Merit was discontinued and replaced with various medals until late in the Civil War. The Medal of Honor was signed into use by all branches of the military by President Lincoln in1862.

Hershel Williams.

The first recipient of the Medal of Honor was Bernard J.D. Irwin, who was an assistant surgeon in the Army and volunteered to lead a group of troops to rescue the 60 soldiers of 2nd Lt. George Bascom’s unit in what is now the state of Arizona. While Irwin’s act of bravery took place in 1861, he did not receive his honor until more than 30 years later in 1894. His act of bravery is considered the first to be rewarded with the medal.

Collecting Medal of Honor autographs is nothing new to the serious military autograph collector. They are one of the most enjoyable and rewarding collections to work on in the field. Though there are relatively few recipients living today, that shouldn’t deter anyone from starting a collection.

World War II

Vernon Baker.

A good place to begin a Medal of Honor collection is with the living World War II recipients. This list includes the only living African American recipient Vernon Baker. Baker received his honor for his actions on April 5-6, 1945 near Viareggio, Italy, during World War II. Mr. Baker is a good signer and answered my request in a little over a month.

John William Finn is the oldest living member of the Medal of Honor recipients and the only living member remaining who received the honor for his valor during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Finn earned his Medal of Honor by manning a machine gun and continuing to fire on attacking planes even after he was shot five times by enemy fire. Along with his Medal of Honor, Finn received seven more major medals in his time with the Navy. Finn retired from the military as a lieutenant in 1956. He is still a great signer at the age of 99 and will answer a request in about a month’s time.

A unique WWII Medal of Honor recipient success is Daniel Inouye. Not only is Inouye a Medal of Honor recipient, he is also the senior

Van Barfoot.

state senator from Hawaii and the third most senior member behind Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd. Inouye has represented the state of Hawaii in some capacity since it became a state in 1959. He was the first Japanese-American to serve in both the House of Representatives and Senate. Inouye served in the 442 Regimental Combat Team. The 442 is the most decorated unit in the history of the Army. Inouye received his medal for his bravery in the European campaign of WW II. He is happy to answer autograph requests, just expect to wait a few months to receive back an answer.

Most of the remaining WWII Medal of Honor recipients are receptive signers through the mail. Heroes like Van Barfoot, Francis Currey, Barney Hajiro, Arthur Jackson, Robert Maxwell, Hershel Williams and Everett Pope are quick to return requests sent to The Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Most successes range from two weeks to three months time.

The Korean War

Duane Dewey.

The Korean War doesn’t receive the same attention as World War II or the Vietnam War. But it still holds a very important place in American history because it was the first confrontation of the Cold War. The Korean War lasted from June 1950 until a cease fire was signed in July 1953. The United States intervened on the behalf of South Korea and deployed more than 480,000 troops throughout the three years. During the U.S. involvement, 132 Medal of Honors were given out, 95 of them posthumously. The remaining 14 are alive today and nine of them have reportedly sent out autographs in the last few years.

William Charette was awarded the Medal of Honor for his acts of valor on March 27, 1953. Charette risked his life by going behind enemy lines to attend to wounded soldiers. On one occasion he threw his body on top of a wounded soldier, absorbing the shock of a live grenade that went off nearby. Even with massive head and face trauma, Charette continued to tend to wounded soldiers on that day. He is a great signer and will usually return requests in less than two weeks time.

Ola Mize.

Hiroshi Miyamura is the only recipient whose award was classified top secret by the United States government. Hiyamura was drafted into the Army near the end of WW II and served briefly before being discharged after the Japanese surrender in August 1945. He reenlisted into the Army reserves and was put into active duty when America entered the Korean War. Miyamura’s honor was deemed classified because he was captured by the North Koreans right after his act of bravery. The United States government feared that if the North Koreans knew of his status as a Medal of Honor recipient, then he would be tortured and might never return home. Miyamura has been a willing signer and returns autograph requests in less than a month.

The seven other Korean Medal of Honor recipients who are receptive to autograph requests include Duane Dewey, Rodolfo Hernandez, Lewis Millett, Ola Mize, Ron Rosser, Robert Simanek and Ernest West. Expect to wait two weeks to a few months to receive a response.

Vietnam War

Pat Brady.

The greatest number of living Medal of Honor recipients are from the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War to this date has been the United States’ longest involvement in military conflict. From 1959 to 1975 the United States deployed more than half a million troops, among which 246 were presented with the Medal of Honor. Of the 246, 154 were awarded posthumously and 60 of them live on today.

Pat Brady is a former Army helicopter pilot who retired as a Major General after 34 years of service. In his two tours of Vietnam, he evacuated more than 5,000 wounded and injured men. On Jan. 6, 1968, Brady earned a Medal of Honor for volunteering to fly multiple missions under heavy fire to save the wounded. Throughout the day Brady used three different helicopters to save 51 seriously injured soldiers, who would have died without urgent care. Brady is a willing signer who will return items in less than a month.

George Everett “Bud” Day is the most highly decorated service man since General Douglas MacArthur. He has received 70 military declarations in his 35 year career. Retiring as a Colonel in 1977,

Bud Day.

Day served in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Day earned his Medal of Honor for his act of bravery after being captured by the North Vietnamese on Aug. 26, 1967. Day’s aircraft was hit by gunfire and he was forced to eject from his aircraft. He was immediately captured and tortured at a prison camp. Day escaped from prison and unsuccessfully tried to signal U.S. aircraft. He was able to avoid enemy interception and lived off the land until he was captured again. He escaped a second time, was recaptured and put into the notorious Hanoi prison. Throughout his time as a prisoner of war, Day, in terrible physical condition, never relented to his captors. Day is a long standing supporter of John McCain, a fellow prisoner of war, and was spotted signing at McCain events in the last presidential campaign. Day is receptive to in person and mail requests, just expect to wait a few months to hear back from him.

Jack Jacobs.

Most of the Vietnam Medal of Honor recipients are glad to answer an autograph request. They tend to be more aware of collectors selling autograph items on sites like eBay. They will usually limit their autographs to one or two items, personalizing many of them. Writing a sincere letter and limiting the number of items should get a positive response from these courageous veterans. James Livingston, Harold Fritz, Bob Kerrey, Leo Thorsness, James A. Taylor, Robert Foley and Jack Jacobs are just a short list of willing signers who have answered my request in as little as two weeks time

Medal of Honor autographs of current and deceased Medal of Honor recipients can be found on auction sites like eBay. There is a subculture of collectors who specifically collect military autographs and can point you in the right direction. Websites like the official Congressional Medal of Honor Society website (, and will give you information on these heroes.

Once a year the Congressional Medal of Honor Society holds a convention to honor the Medal of Honor recipients. For more information concerning this year’s convention in Chicago, Ill., visit Best of luck and happy collecting!

Affordable History: Soldiers of Fortune


Featured in Autograph April 2009

For years I have been far more interested in collecting the politics of war, rather than in those who fought in them. But this changed when I bought several large collections that included some fascinating people who played key roles in history.

In a collection of WWI autographs, I found one of the great soldiers of fortune, Ivor Thord-Gray. There are gaps in the information on Thord-Gray and even contradictory statements, so in writing this article I have tried to piece together what seems to be the most logical set of events from the varying sources.

Ivor Thord Hallstromat was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1878, and spent his life far from home as he sought and served in what seems like all of the world’s wars from 1897 through WWII. He joined the merchant marines at the age of 15 and landed in South Africa. Thord-Gray was unique in that rather than fighting as a mercenary, he joined the military of the country he was fighting for.

During much of his time in the British military, Thord-Gray was suspected of being a German spy and both M1 and the FBI spent an inordinate amount of time trying to prove it. In actuality he was mistaken for another officer named Gray who was a German spy, but the problem haunted him.

Some sources claim that Thord-Gray’s stories of Africa served as an inspiration for Tarzan. Married five times, he died in Florida in 1964. Once asked why he had married so many times he replied he was collecting mothers-in-laws.

In making the choice of Thord-Gray, I picked one of the rarest adventurers. The Swedes are proud of his accomplishments and more than 1,000 letters and papers exist in their Royal Library. I paid almost nothing for my autograph, but there also seems to be nothing listed for sale, so I would suggest looking for signed copies of his books or letters. These could range from $50 to as much as a $1,000, depending on who is selling it to you. Or you may get lucky and find the autograph in a yard sale box for a fraction of its value.

If adventurers interest you, do some research. People who explored Africa, the Amazon or the North and South Pole have wonderful stories and sell for under $50 or as much as $1,000 for a diary with content. Research is the secret. Make a list of who you want and why the individuals excite you. I just came across a list I made 15 years ago and realized I’ve collected every name on the list. It may take years, but that is part of the adventure of collecting.

Thord-Gray Time Line

1897 • South African Cape Mounted Rifleman: Fought in Bechuanaland and Pondoland

1899-1902 • British Army: Fought against the Boers in the Second Boer War—this war pitted the British Empire against the two independent Boer Republics in South Africa and was the first major international war of the 20th century

1903-1904 • South African Constabulary: Fought with forces in Transvaal and saw action as a captain in the Lydenburg Militia

1906-07 • Royston’s Horse: Fought with the British against Zulu chief Bambatha; the Zulus had turned to guerilla attacks against the British, but the superiority of the British arms defeated the Zulus and Bambatha was beheaded.

1907 • Nairobi Mounted Police/Kenya: Thord-Gray was known as a big game hunter during these years.

1908-09 • US Army/Philippines: Joined the U.S. Army as a Captain and spent time in the Philippine Constabulary

1910 • French Foreign Legion: Fought in Tonkin (now Vietnam) and some sources have him joining the Italian Army and fighting in Tripoli

1912 • China: Fought in the Chinese revolution under Sun Yat Sen

1913-1914 • Mexico: Thord-Gray wrote a book, Gringo Rebel: Mexico 1913-1914, describing experiences serving as Pancho Villa’s captain and commander in charge of artillery.

1914 • WWI: Thord-Gray joined the British Army as a Major and made second in command of the 15th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers.  Promoted to lieutenant colonel and then colonel of the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers, he then became commander of the 1/26th Battalion.  The 11th saw action in many battles. Thord-Gray received important decorations for his service and wrote a book on trench warfare.

1918 • Canadian Army: Lieutenant colonel and director of information when the Allies invaded Russia to try to put down the Soviet government, he fought the Bolsheviks across Russia to Siberia

1919 • Russian White: Army Colonel and commanding officer of the 1st Siberian Assault Division; seriously wounded on August 14, 1919 in Omsk. Thord-Gray was again wounded in 1920 and captured by the Red Army, but was quickly turned over to American troops.

1928 • Venezuela: Given the rank of lieutenant general when revolution broke out, but gave up the rank when the revolution broke down in early 1929.

1934-1935 • Florida militia /United States: Became an American citizen; Governor David Scholtz appointed him major general in the Florida militia and chief of staff to the governor.

1941 • US Army: Some sources have him advising during WWII.

Affordable History: Longest Serving Congress Members


Featured in Autograph March 2009

New York senator, Emanuel Celler

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Affordable History: The Battle of San Juan Hill


— Autograph February 2009

TLS on Outlook stationery by Theodore Roosevelt, who was awarded a controversial Medal of Honor in 2001 for his actions at San Juan Hill. When I was a teen these sold for $15-20, I more recently paid $350.

In American history, certain battles of its wars hold an iconic status: Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Alamo, Gettysburg, Belleau Wood, Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and the Battle of the Bulge, to name a few. When people think of the Spanish-American War of 1898, they think of the Battle of San Juan Hill. And when Americans think of this battle, they think of Teddy Roosevelt charging up the hill, followed by his Rough Riders, an all-American mix of cowboys, Ivy Leaguers, Pawnee Scouts, polo players and New York  City policemen.

It was “A Splendid Little War,” created by the jingoism of the yellow press techniques of William Randolph Hearst and others, whose propaganda caused the public and the politicians to demand that a hesitant President McKinley go to war to kick the cruel Spanish out of Cuba, and to “Remember the Maine.” It was clearly an optional war and though we passed a law that we would not annex Cuba, we ended up with the Spanish colonies of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam.

Leading Figures

The Spanish-American War is barely remembered today and mostly what we know of it is due to one man, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was one of our most colorful and important of presidents, and it was his charge up San Juan Hill that eventually gave him the presidency. His history is well known and in recent years has been dissected by a number of historians. Roosevelt was many things, but one thing he did all his life was push himself to the end of his limits and expected the same from others. As assistant secretary of the Navy in the McKinley administration, Roosevelt’s machinations helped bring on the war. More than anything he wanted to serve in it and prove himself a “man.” When Roosevelt proposed to Secretary of War Russell Alger the concept of the Rough Riders, otherwise known as the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, Alger agreed, offering him a colonelcy and command. But, Roosevelt suggested Col. Leonard Wood to help him lead the volunteers.

Col. Leonard Wood was the actual leader of the Rough Riders, an Indian War Medal of Honor recipient and later a presidential hopeful.

Lt. Col. Wood was an Army physician, and Presidents Cleveland’s and McKinley’s personal physician, who had gained fame and a Medal of Honor for his actions in fighting Geronimo in 1886. While in Cuba he replaced the ill Gen. Samuel B. M. Young as the commander of the Second Cavalry Brigade, which included the Rough Riders. Wood is an important autograph of a San Juan Hill collection because, despite the fact that the calvary will be forever known as “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders,” he was technically the commander. He went on to become

Gen. Nelson Miles, Medal of Honor recipient, Indian fighter and overall leader of the forces during the Spanish-American War.

governor of Cuba, chief of Army staff and was a major candidate for the 1920 Republican presidential nomination. His signature can cost around $100. Wood may have officially been in charge, but there was never any doubt that Roosevelt was the real head of the Rough Riders.

The overall war was commanded by Gen. Nelson Miles, a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient, wounded four times and later known as the great Indian fighter. The command in Cuba fell to Gen. William Shafter, another Civil War Medal of Honor recipient and Indian fighter. He was in his 60s, weighed well over 300 pounds and suffered badly in the tropical heat. Because of his gout, he had to be carried on a door, but he used good sense in capturing Santiago, the main objective, through the use of the Navy and through peace negotiations. Roosevelt wasn’t pleased with this because it denied him the chance to fight another battle after San Juan Hill. President McKinley’s choice to lead the cavalry, including the Rough Riders, was the aging and diminutive Confederate Cavalry Gen. “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, who McKinley believed would help bring the nation together.

The confused Wheeler mistakenly called the Spanish “Yankees” and, despite his age of 61, road to the gunfire at San Juan Hill. As a Confederate hero of the Civil War, Wheeler’s autograph is highly desirable, and since he served in Congress between wars, it’s also fairly plentiful with a signature selling for $100-$150. Gen. Miles and Shafter both also sell in the same range.

Not So Splendid A War

Gen. Lytle Brown graduated from the Military Academy at West Point the same year as the San Juan Hill battle. He was a top engineer in WWI, president of the U.S. Army War College and head of the Panama Canal Zone.

The majority of the regular Army who fought in the war, plus volunteers, made up a force of massive proportions—so large that there were not enough bullets in the country to meet their needs. Getting the troops to Cuba and supplying them was poorly planned. The war was brief, lasting only from April to August (with the final peace treaty being signed in December), but it was bloody. Once in Cuba, the Americans found the roads almost impassible, food largely unavailable and the soldiers out-gunned by smokeless rifles that picked off the troops almost from the time they reached land.

Confederate Cavalry Gen. “Fighting Joe” Wheeler led the cavalry in Cuba.

Several bloody skirmishes were fought before reaching the two hills that overlooked Santiago: Kettle Hill, named for a huge kettle found at the top, and San Juan Hill beside it. The troops waited below, being picked off for hours before the final order was given to charge. There is still controversy today as to who made the final call to charge, but once made, the Americans faced a small but well entrenched group of Spaniards at the top.

The charge is where history and fact part ways. We think of Roosevelt, alone, leading the Rough Riders to victory. In fact, he was a part of one of many groups who made the charge. They were dismounted cavalry

Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing led African-American troops in the attack on San Juan Hill. One of the more expensive San Juan Hill autographs, Pershing headed the American forces in WWI.

and infantry, primarily led by regulars including a large number of African-Americans. Five African-Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in the battle.

Roosevelt showed great bravery in what he considered the greatest day of his life, and within days was shamelessly lobbying for a Medal of Honor. His duplicity in the war and his back-biting against his superiors had left a sour taste in the mouths of the War Department, who felt that, while brave, he was no braver than others. He went to his death regretting that he had not received the medal, but in January 2001, despite opposition, and the fact that some believe he really didn’t deserve it, he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Bill Clinton.

Other Generals

Gen. T. A. Baldwin lost 20 percent of his men and 50 percent of his officers in the charge up San Juan Hill, and received personal commendations from President McKinley and Gen. Wheeler.

Besides the leaders, a number of generals who gained fame in WW I were part of the attack on San Juan Hill. Among these are a few from my collection, such as Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, who won the sobriquet “Black Jack” because he commanded black troops and was an officer in the charge; Malvern Hill Barnum, the son of Civil War Gen. Henry Barnum, who was cited for gallantry as part of the 10th Cavalry; Gen. Charles Crawford, who led the 3rd Infantry Division in WWI; Gen. Frank McCoy who was wounded; and others include Gen. Lytle Brown, Gen. T. A. Baldwin and Gen. Samuel S. B. Young.

Many important officers played a role in the battle at San Juan Hill, and it’s an adventure to find them. Many who were also in WWI can be found for as little as $25 for a letter.