Tag Archives: Medal of Honor

This Month in NCO History: Dec. 19, 1899 — A significant month for two brothers

The month of December held a certain significance for the Gaujot brothers. That meaning didn’t come from holiday fervor in their native Eagle Harbor, Michigan, or because the younger Gaujot’s birthday was Dec. 12. It came from history.

Antoine August Michel Gaujot and Julien Edward Victor Gaujot are one of eight sets of brothers who have been awarded the Medal of Honor, and they are also the only siblings to receive the nation’s highest military honor for actions in separate wars. Julien Gaujot also holds the distinction of being the only Soldier to be awarded the medal for actions of a peacekeeping nature.

During a skirmish April 13, 1911, along the Southwestern U.S. border between Mexican government troops and rebel forces, stray bullets caused American casualties in Douglas, Arizona. Julien Gaujot, at the time a captain with K Troop, 1st U.S. Cavalry, bravely rode through the field of fire into Agua Prieta in the Mexican state of Sonora. He was to obtain permission from the rebel commander to receive the surrender of the surrounded federal forces, together with five American prisoners, and escort them to the American border. Gaujot succeeded and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Howard Taft during a ceremony at the White House in December 1912.

The honor came 13 years after Antoine Gaujot’s gallantry while an NCO during the Philippine-American War. The younger Gaujot was a corporal in M Company, 27th Infantry, U.S. Volunteers. On Dec. 18, 1899, the unit joined with others to follow Maj. Gen. Harry W. Lawton along the Marikina River toward San Mateo in the present-day province of Rizal. The American forces were on a punitive expedition, hunting for Brig. Gen. Pio del Pilar’s force of 1,000 troops, who had attacked the Marikina waterworks and the Manila wagon road to the north.

The following day, the forces made for San Mateo, approaching the Filipinos in the early morning hours as rain fell in torrents. As they neared San Mateo, they came under enemy fire from the Morong Command battalion led by Gen. Licerio Geronimo. The Filipinos forced Lawton’s Soldiers — Antoine Gaujot among them — to scramble for cover in the surrounding rice fields. Lawton walked up and down the line, rallying his men as they regrouped when he was shot by a sniper. He became the highest-ranking American commander to die in the Philippine conflict.

With their leader gone and unrelenting enemy fire peppering the paddies around them, the situation seemed bleak. The Americans also had to deal with the monsoon conditions that quickly made the river they were walking along nearly impassable. That’s when Gaujot leaped into action. According to his citation, “he made persistent effort under heavy enemy rifle fire to locate a ford in order to help his unit cross the swollen river to attack.”

Gaujot was unable to locate a safe passage. So he and another NCO, Sgt. Edward H. Gibson, made the fateful decision to swim across the rapidly rising river “under fire and against a dangerous current.” Upon reaching the northern shore of the Marikina, the two men located a canoe that belonged to the enemy and returned with it to the friendly side of the river. The seemingly innocuous effort to keep enemy forces from reaching their position would prove fruitful.

As rifle fire from the Filipino side subsided intermittently, American forces were able to use the canoe to move north. Eventually, the entire American contingent materialized on the enemy side of the river nearly six hours after first encountering resistance. Filipino forces, weary from inflicting minimal casualties after seemingly having the upper hand in the fight, retreated. They were eventually driven from San Mateo by the galvanized American force.

Antoine Gaujot and Edward Gibson were both awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. Gaujot received his medal in February 1911 via registered mail. The hardware drew the admiration of his older brother.

“He wears it for watch fob, the damn civilian,” Julien Gaujot jabbed at his brother after the medal was issued. “I got to get me one them things for myself if I bust.”

Two months later, Julien was involved in the action that would earn him his medal during another celebratory December nearly two years later.

After his time in the Philippines, Antoine Gaujot was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard and saw service during the Mexican Border Crisis and in France during World War I. He died April 14, 1936, at age 57 in Williamson, West Virginia. He was buried in the city’s Fairview Cemetery.

Julien Gaujot retired from the Army in 1934 with the rank of colonel. He worked as a firefighter and a civil engineer. He died April 7, 1938, in Williamson. He was 63. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The brothers both attended Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia. A cenotaph at the university’s War Memorial Court bears their names along with the five other alumni who were awarded the Medal of Honor.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa


This Month in NCO History: Nov. 10, 2004 — Into the hot zone at the Second Battle of Fallujah

Staff Sgt. David Bellavia was bleary eyed. He had been awake nearly 48 hours, denied sleep by a cacophony of sporadic gunfire aimed at him and his platoon as they made their way through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq. He had already seen his sergeant major, company commander and executive officer cut down by enemy fire, forcing him to assume command of A Company, Task Force 2-2, 1st Infantry Division.

Now he was feet away from the front door of a house along an abandoned block in the city of 350,000. His Soldiers had searched nine houses along the street looking for six to eight insurgents that intelligence reports suggested were in the area. It was Nov. 10, 2004, Bellavia’s 29th birthday. What he unwrapped upon opening the doors to that 10th house would etch his name into history as a recipient of the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest decoration for valor in combat.

“I have had better birthdays, for sure,” Bellavia told the Military Channel in 2009.

Bellavia’s men were mired in the opening stages of the Second Battle of Fallujah. Also known as Operation Phantom Fury, the operation was a joint effort by American, Iraqi and British forces to drive out the Iraqi insurgency in the city. It began Nov. 7, 2004, and ended more than six weeks later on Dec. 23. The effort was led by the U.S. Marine Corps and was the bloodiest battle of the Iraq war.

The impetus for the battle began in March when four American private military contractors from Blackwater USA were ambushed and killed in Fallujah. U.S. Marine forces launched Operation Vigilant Resolve to take the city back from insurgents. The operation ended in late April with the formation of the Fallujah Brigade, a unit composed of Iraqis, which was charged with keeping insurgents out of the city. But insurgent strength did not wane. On Sept. 24, 2004, a senior U.S. official told ABC News that catching Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was said to be operating in the city, was “the highest priority.”

The insurgents holding Fallujah were formidable. They had interpreters, combat cameramen and were well-trained. But Bellavia’s unit was battle-hardened, too. By the time they arrived on the city’s outskirts, the 1st ID had been in Iraq for 10 months and had been involved in every major battle in the war up to that point. The pair of hard-nosed contingents clashed immediately when the door of that 10th house opened.

“They just opened up on us with belt-fed machine guns,” Bellavia said.

The insurgents were entrenched in a makeshift pillbox under a set of stairs. Bellavia seethed when he heard the anguished screams of his fellow Soldiers as they were wounded.

“I wanted that revenge. I wanted to be that leader that I promised I would be,” he said. “A light switch went off.”

According to his Silver Star citation, Bellavia, armed with an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon gun, entered the room where the insurgents were holed up and sprayed it with gunfire, forcing the enemy to take cover and allowing the squad to move into the street. While the Americans took fire from various vantage points inside the house, Bellavia called in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to shell the houses. During a lull in the fire, Bellavia approached the house again and observed an insurgent loading a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Bellavia promptly shot him and charged into the house. A second insurgent fired at him, and Bellavia wounded him in the shoulder. When he entered a bedroom, the wounded insurgent followed, forcing Bellavia to shoot him. When another insurgent began firing from a floor above, Bellavia returned fire and killed him. A fourth insurgent then emerged from a closet in the bedroom, yelling and firing his weapon as he leaped over a bed trying to reach Bellavia. The insurgent tripped and Bellavia wounded him. Bellavia chased the insurgent as he ran upstairs. He followed the wounded insurgent’s bloody footprints to a room on the landing and threw in a fragmentation grenade. Upon entering the room, Bellavia discovered it was filled with propane tanks and plastic explosives. He did not fire his weapon for fear of setting off an explosion and instead engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the insurgent, fatally stabbing him in the neck.

At this point, five members of the platoon entered the house and took control of the first floor. Before they could go room by room clearing the structure, however, they were ordered to move out of the area because close air support had been called in by a nearby unit.

Years later, Bellavia recalled his actions as reactionary.

“It was survivability,” he said. “This is what we were destined to do. In the moment that’s very much rational.”

Bellavia left the service after six years in 2005 as a staff sergeant. He co-founded Vets for Freedom and served as vice chairman. He attended the 2006 State of the Union address as an honored guest. He currently is president of EMPact America, an American energy resiliency organization based in Elma, New York. He is married and has three children.

In 2007, he published a memoir, House to House: An Epic Memoir of War, co-written with John R. Bruning. In September 2010, the book was selected as one of the top five best Iraq War memoirs by journalist Thomas Ricks (author of Fiasco). In 2012, Bellavia signed an agreement with 2012 Oscar-winning producer Rich Middlemas to make his memoir into a major motion picture. Along with the Silver Star, Bellavia also was awarded the Bronze Star, three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals and the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross. He was also nominated for the Medal of Honor.

Most of the fighting in the Second Battle of Fallujah subsided by Nov. 13. U.S. Marines continued to face isolated resistance from insurgents hidden throughout the city. By Nov. 16, after nine days of fighting, the Marine command described the action as mopping up pockets of resistance. Sporadic fighting continued until Dec. 23. By late January 2005, news reports indicated U.S. combat units were leaving the area, and were assisting the local population in returning to the now heavily-damaged city.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

This Month in NCO History: Oct. 1, 1863 — Saving Sherman’s March to the Sea

Sgt. Joseph Keen was severely fatigued and mentally exhausted after having spent nearly a year as a Confederate prisoner of war. When he managed to flee his captors Sept. 10, 1864, near Macon, Georgia, he began his trek back toward Union lines believing his chapter in the story of the Civil War was complete.

Little did Keen know he would earn a place in the grand annals of Army history as a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor.

Keen was part of D Company, 13th Michigan Infantry, when it took part in the Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 18-20, 1863. The Union offensive in southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia was successfully repelled by Confederate forces and ended with nearly half of the 13th’s 217 Soldiers listed as killed, captured or missing. Keen, who was wounded during the battle, was among those taken prisoner. He spent most of the next year being shuffled between Confederate prisons in Virginia and Georgia before ending up in Macon.

During his time in captivity, Keen kept tabs on the Union’s movements as news poured in from other Soldiers who were subsequently imprisoned with him. He learned that the 13th was actively engaging Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s forces across Tennessee and was poised to join famed Union Gen. William T. Sherman in Georgia.

Keen took that news with him when he escaped near Macon. Some days and many miles northwest after his flight from captivity, Keen observed the movement of Confederate forces led by Gen. John Bell Hood and numbering about 40,000 crossing the Chattahoochee River in an attempt to flank Sherman’s army from the rear near Atlanta. Hood had already ceded the city to Sherman the previous month. Now, he was charged with trying to cut off Union communication between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Keen observed the opening stages of that strategy. That’s when he made a fateful decision.

Alone, unarmed and with scores of Confederate forces between him and the future Georgia capital, Keen began a bold march toward Atlanta. According to his Medal of Honor citation, Keen managed to walk undetected through Confederate marching columns, camps and pickets before reaching Union lines near Atlanta on Oct. 1. He relayed news of the Confederate movement to Gen. Hugh J. Kilpatrick. The development furthered Sherman’s objective as it removed opposing forces in his planned path to Savannah, Georgia. Sherman noted, “If he [Hood] will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations. … my business is down south.”

Instead of marching out to meet Hood with his army, Sherman sent Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to take control of Union forces in Tennessee and coordinate the defense against Hood, while the bulk of Sherman’s forces, which by November included Keen and the 13th Michigan Infantry, began the March to the Sea — the Savannah campaign that destroyed much of the South’s physical and psychological capacity to wage war.

That effort was spurred along, in part, by Keen’s brave undertaking. He was awarded the Medal of Honor on July 31, 1899, for his actions.

Keen was born July 24, 1843, in Stanford in the Vale, Oxfordshire, England. It is unknown when he arrived in the United States. He enlisted as a private in the 13th Michigan Infantry on Feb. 1, 1862. He was promoted to corporal Aug. 31 of that year and earned his sergeant stripes April 1, 1863.

After his time in the Army, Keen spent his years as a farmer and an officer of the Detroit Oak Belting Co. He died Dec. 3, 1926, of heart disease. He was 83. Keen is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa

This Month in NCO History: Aug. 12, 1881 — Buffalo Soldier repels Apache attacks

1st Sgt. George Jordan was a Buffalo Soldier, part of the famed group of African-American men who served after the Civil War and into the 20th century.

As such, Jordan was not immune to the inequality faced by veterans of the segregated regiments. After his days in the Army, he struggled to find help when his health declined dramatically, being denied admission to the hospital at the now-defunct Fort Robinson in northwest Nebraska.

But on the battlefield, Jordan had few equals. His tenacity and bravery while part of the 9th Cavalry were unmatched. These attributes helped him learn to read and write after growing up illiterate. They helped him earn his sergeant stripes. And they helped him become worthy of the nation’s highest military honor.

Jordan was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1890 for his actions during the Apache Wars. The conflicts between the U.S. Army and the Apache nations were fought in the Southwest between 1849 and 1886. Jordan became a sergeant with K Troop, 9th Cavalry in 1879. At the time, the unit was stationed at Fort Stockton, Texas, and charged with maintaining order between the Rio Grande and Concho River from Fort Clark to El Paso.

In May 1880, Jordan led a 25-man detachment into the New Mexico Military District to protect Fort Tularosa from potential attack. The fort was near the present-day town of Aragon in Catron County, New Mexico. On May 13, Jordan received word that Apaches led by Chief Victorio were laying siege to the town. Jordan implored his troops to reach the area quickly through a forced march. On the morning of May 14, the detachment arrived at Fort Tularosa, finding the town intact. Jordan immediately had his troops build a new fort to protect the townspeople and a new stockade for their animals.

That evening, about 100 of Victorio’s men attacked, sending the townspeople scurrying under volleys of arrows. The town’s occupants found safety inside the newly built fort as the Buffalo Soldiers kept their attackers at bay. The Apaches staggered their attacks against the fort but Jordan successfully reorganized and mustered his men to repel each wave. His Soldiers even made a daring rescue to save all of the town’s cattle. The Apaches eventually relented after suffering several casualties. Jordan didn’t lose a man.

Protecting the town was an impressive feat, but it was what Jordan did 15 months later that cemented his place in the annals of Army history.

Jordan was one of 19 9th Cavalry troops actively pursuing Nana, a Warm Springs Apache chief who had ravaged areas of Texas, Mexico and New Mexico. The Soldiers were led by Capt. Charles Parker and had tracked Nana and his band of Navajos and Chiricahua Apaches into Carrizo Canyon. The canyon lay south of present-day Carrizozo Spring, New Mexico. Though not daunting in size, the outcropping was a treacherous place to come upon as it provided many high, hidden vantage points for an entrenched contingent to fire upon approaching enemies.

It is unclear how many enemy combatants the Buffalo Soldiers faced when they arrived at the canyon Aug. 12, 1881. Parker’s after-action report estimates that the opposing force had 40 guns. The Americans were easily outnumbered but would need to find a way through the canyon to continue the southward pursuit of Nana. That’s when Parker leaned on the battle-tested Jordan. The Buffalo Soldier was charged with taking a few men to head up the right flank along the gradual slope of the canyon to lay down suppressing fire along the opposite slopes as the rest of the group moved through. But the day didn’t go as planned. During their trek through the underbrush, Parker’s group came under fire from the slopes opposite Jordan. Jordan’s group returned fire from the other side, intermittently making the enemy retreat into the surrounding forest only to see them return further up the path to again cut off Parker’s progress.

While Parker was pinned down, the danger intensified for Jordan and his small detachment up above. They encountered hostile forces that had been posted on their side of the crest who had flanked them from the right. Parker rallied his men, positioning them so they were able to stave off their attackers in close combat while also periodically firing across the canyon at enemy forces that were shooting into the canyon below.

It is unknown how long Jordan and his men remained in this position, but his citation states, “he stubbornly held his ground in an extremely exposed position and gallantly forced back a much superior number of the enemy, preventing them from surrounding the command.” The desperate courage of Jordan allowed the unit to retreat back to Carrizozo Spring. The Americans lost one Soldier while inflicting four enemy casualties.

For his actions at Carrizo Canyon as well as Fort Tularosa, Jordan was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 7, 1890. Another NCO present at Carrizo Canyon, 1st Sgt. Thomas Shaw, also received the Medal of Honor later that year for actions during the battle.

Jordan left the Army in 1897. He originally joined in 1880 in Nashville, Tennessee. By the end of his service he had spent a decade as first sergeant of a troop renowned for its efforts against the Apache and Sioux. Jordan lived among other Buffalo Soldier veterans in Crawford, Nebraska, became a successful land owner and made headway in earning the right to vote.

Jordan became ill in the fall of 1904. He was turned away from Fort Robinson’s hospital and told to travel to Washington, D.C., to gain admission to the United States Soldiers’ Home. He never made the trip, as he died Oct. 24. Jordan was buried in Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Maxwell, Nebraska.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa


This Month in NCO History: June 19, 1945 — A one-man charge at Ozato, Okinawa

Technical Sgt. John William Meagher was atop a moving tank when he spied a Japanese soldier with a bomb clutched in his hands dashing toward the vehicle’s tread. Meagher didn’t hesitate. He barked the location of one last target to the tank’s gunner before leaping off the iron behemoth to charge at the incoming threat — and into history as a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor.

Meagher was part of E Company, 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, on June 19, 1945, when it ran into Japanese resistance near Ozato, Okinawa. The Statue of Liberty Division had arrived in Okinawa in March to relieve the 96th Infantry Division. By June, it had moved to the southern end of the island near Ozato from its previous position in Shuri. Here, the 77th ID was charged with covering the right flank of the XXIV Corps to seal off cave positions the Japanese used as safe havens.

On that fateful June day, Meagher’s unit was advancing against enemy resistance. According to his Medal of Honor citation, he climbed atop an assault tank to direct its fire against two fortified enemy targets. He did so despite “bullets splattering about him.” Amid the hail of gunfire, Meagher noticed the lone Japanese soldier making a run at the tank. He jumped off the tank and ran toward the enemy with his bayonet extended in front of him.

While Meagher halted the attacker’s charge, he also detonated the explosive device the attacker was carrying and was knocked unconscious by the blast. Meagher came to moments later. Finding his rifle destroyed and enemy fire still whizzing by him, he returned to his tank to grab a weapon. Meagher secured a machine gun and “began a furious one-man assault on the enemy,” his citation states.

He fired from the hip as he moved through a barrage of bullets that ripped through his clothing. Meagher reached the nearest pillbox and killed six enemy soldiers. He sprinted to the next pillbox through more gunfire only to find his weapon out of ammunition. But Meagher was unfazed. According to his citation, “he grasped his empty gun by the barrel and in a violent onslaught killed the crew.”

His single-handed effort silenced heavy enemy resistance and enabled his platoon to take its objective and continue the advance. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor a year later on June 26, 1946.

Meagher was born Dec. 5, 1917, in Jersey City, New Jersey. On March 21, 1942, he was drafted into the Army for service in World War II. The 77th ID was activated four days before his draft date. Meagher trained extensively with the division in the United States before heading for war in the Pacific. They fought in campaigns on Guam and Leyte before joining other forces in the Battle of Okinawa. Two days after Meagher’s gallant one-man charge, the last remnants of Japanese resistance fell.

Meagher left the Army while still a technical sergeant. He died April 14, 1996, at age 78. Meagher was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

— Compiled by Pablo Villa