Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Medal of Honor
On December 9, 1861 Iowa Senator James W. Grimes introduced S. No. 82 in the United States Senate, a bill designed to "promote the efficiency of the Navy" by authorizing the production and distribution of "medals of honor". On December 21st the bill was passed, authorizing 200 such medals be produced "which shall be bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen and marines as shall distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action and other seamanlike qualities during the present war (Civil War)." President Lincoln signed the bill and the (Navy) Medal of Honor was born.

Two months later on February 17, 1862 Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson introduced a similar bill, this one to authorize "the President to distribute medals to privates in the Army of the United States who shall distinguish themselves in battle." Over the following months wording changed slightly as the bill made its way through Congress. When President Abraham Lincoln signed S.J.R. No. 82 on July 12, 1862, the Army Medal of Honor was born. It read in part:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause two thousand "medals of honor" to be prepared with suitable emblematic devices, and to direct that the same be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such non--commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities, during the present insurrection (Civil War)."

With this simple and rather obscure act Congress created a unique award that would achieve prominence in American history like few others.

The Medal of Honor was first awarded during the Civil War. Of the millions of Americans who have served in our nations armed forces only 3,408 have received America's highest award for valor. Among those few are seven alumni of Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech has more honorees than any other institution of higher learning with the exception of West Point and Annapolis.

The Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M also has 7 Medal of Honor recipients. This is particularly significant when considering that just over half of the nation's medals were awarded prior to Virginia Tech's founding during the Civil War.

Antoine A.M. Gaujot, Class of 1901 and Julien E. Gaujot, Class of 1894 are two of the few brothers ever awarded the Medal of Honor and only pair to receive the Medal for actions in different wars. Antoine Gaujot received the medal for actions as an army corporal at the Battle of San Mateo during the Philippine Insurrection. 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. Unable to accomplish this he swam with a companion again under fire and against a dangerous current across the river to the enemy side. There, he secured an enemy canoe and returned it to the friendly side of the river.

Julien, his brother and a regular army officer, became obsessed with his brother's achievement. Referring to Antoine, Julien said "He wears it for a watch fob, the damn civilian, I got to get me one of them things for myself if I bust." Julien Gaujot received the medal for actions on the Mexican Border in 1914. He is the only soldier ever awarded the Medal for actions of a peacekeeping nature. In Douglas, Arizona, stray bullets from fighting among Mexican rebels and government troops caused American casualties. Julien Gaujot crossed the border under heavy fire. He moved between the two groups of belligerents for an hour, amongst heavy fire. This secured the safe passage of the Mexican soldiers and American prisoners over the border to the United States. His actions saved five Americans taken prisoner by the Mexicans, 25 Mexican soldiers plus Americans and Mexican rebels who would have died in continued fighting.

Earle D. Gregory, Class of 1923, a native of Chase City and graduate of Fork Union Military Academy, studied Electrical Engineering at Virginia Tech. As a senior at Virginia Tech he was a Cadet Captain and company commander, President of the Corps of Cadets, and selected as Most Popular Cadet. Earle Gregory received the Medal of Honor for actions as an army sergeant during the Meuse Argonne Offensive in World War I. He is considered to be the first Virginian to receive the medal and often called the Sergeant York of Virginia. Earle Gregory armed with a rifle and a mortar shell used as a hand grenade, single handedly captured a machine gun and three enemy soldiers. Continuing his advance he captured a howitzer and 19 enemy soldiers.

Herbert J. Thomas, Class of 1944, a native of Charleston, West Virginia and graduate of South Charleston High School, studied Business Administration at Virginia Tech. Cadet Sergeant Herbert Thomas was a legendary football player and is a member of Virginia Tech's Athletic Hall of Fame. His senior year he was the second highest scorer in the Southern Conference and received All American honors. He received the Medal of Honor for action on Bougainville Island in World War II while a Sergeant in the Marine Corps. Through dense jungle and severe machine gun fire Herbert Thomas led his men in destroying two enemy machine gun positions. Halted by a third enemy machine gun, he positioned his men to rush the enemy after he threw a hand grenade. He threw the grenade only to have the jungle vines drop it back among his men. Seeing the danger to his men, he leaped upon the hand grenade, saving their lives with the sacrifice of his own.

Jimmie W. Monteith, Class of 1944, a native of Richmond and graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, studied Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. While at Virginia Tech Cadet Monteith played football. Jimmie Monteith received the Medal of Honor for actions as an army lieutenant at D-Day during World War II. Without regard for his own safety he led the assault over exposed beach to the cover a narrow ledge. Leaving cover he moved toward two tanks. Exposed to intense artillery and machine gun fire, he led them through a minefield and directed the tank fire, destroying several enemy positions. He then returned to his men and he led them in the capture of an advantageous position. Against vicious enemy counterattacks he repetitively crossed open terrain under heavy fire to strengthen his unit's defense until he was killed.

Robert E. Femoyer, Class of 1944, an Eagle Scout, graduated from Saint Joseph Catholic High School in Huntington, West Virginia. Robert Femoyer studied Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech. During World War II he enlisted in the Army Air Force and is the only navigator awarded the Medal of Honor. On a bombing mission over Germany, he was wounded by enemy aircraft fire, which seriously damaged his B-17 bomber. Despite extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused morphine in order to keep his mental faculties clear. For two and half-hours he guided the lone bomber through six changes in course around enemy antiaircraft concentrations. Bleeding steadily he worked with amazing clarity despite pain described as "almost beyond the realm of human endurance". As the crippled aircraft crossed safely over the English Channel, Lieutenant Robert Femoyer finally allowed an injection of morphine. Thirty minutes after landing he died of wounds.

Richard Shea, Class of 1948, a native of Portsmouth, graduated from Churchland High School. He first studied in uniform at Virginia Tech at the height of World War II. Enlisting in the army, he served as a Sergeant, and entered West Point where he graduated. He was an All American in track and said to have been the greatest track star to attend Virginia Tech (where he ran his first competitive race) or West Point. Turning down the opportunity to attend the Olympics he joined his classmates in the Korean War. Richard Shea received the Medal of Honor for actions as an army first lieutenant at Pork Chop Hill during the Korean War. Fighting outnumbered, he voluntarily proceeded to the area most threatened, organizing and leading a counterattack. During the bitter fighting, he killed two enemy with his trench knife. In over 18 hours of heavy fighting he moved among the defenders of Pork Chop Hill ensuring a successful defense. Leading a counterattack he killed three enemy soldiers single-handedly. Although wounded, he refused evacuation. He was last seen fighting hand-to-hand during yet another counterattack. He left behind a wife and unborn son.