By ROBERT MOORE
Featured in Autograph April 2009
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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 (www.CMOHS.org), www.HameOfHeroes.com and www.MedalOfHonor.com 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 www.CMOH2009Chicago.com. Best of luck and happy collecting!