Attending EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2023 I happened upon a rare opportunity while walking across Boeing Plaza Saturday morning (July 29). From several loudspeakers a voice called all within hearing to gather around the American Airlines Flagship Valor to meet two Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. Seated under the belly of the Airbus A321, were MGen Patrick H. Brady and Sgt Sammy L. Davis. Both are Vietnam veterans, and both are recipients of the CMoH. After listening to these heroes share their story, I continued my tour among the display aircraft and my thoughts drifted to Wisconsin’s recipients of the CMoH. I know those recipients who have been inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame – Major Richard Bong, Major Jack Jerstad, and Captain Lance Sijan. But who else? Who are these heroes? Their names and stories should be familiar to all of us.
The Navy was the first branch to have its medal established on December 21, 1861. The Army’s medal was established eight months later, on July 12, 1862. The medal was created for recognition of enlisted military members until March 3, 1863, when Army officers were made eligible and March 3, 1915, for Naval officers.
The first soldier to receive the medal was Private Jacob Parrott on March 25, 1863. The first seaman to receive the medal was Signal Quartermaster Robert Williams May 15, 1863. The first Marine to receive the medal was Corporal John F. Mackie on July 10, 1863. On May 24, 1943, Signalman First Class Douglas Munro became the first and only member of the Coast Guard to receive the medal.
The Air Force became a separate branch in 1947 and their medal was established in 1962. A total of 3,535 medals have been awarded to 3,516 recipients to date. Today there are 65 living recipients. Mary Walker is the only female recipient. The youngest recipient was 12-year-old William Johnston.
Wisconsin is ranked 16th among the states with 50 CMoH recipients.
Conflicts during which Wisconsinites were awarded the CMoH and the number of medals awarded are: Civil War 18, World War II 16, Korea 5, Vietnam 5, Indian Campaigns 2, Philippine Insurrection 1, Mexican Campaign 1, and Boxer Rebellion 1.
Wisconsinites in the Army garnered the most medals with 39. The Navy was second and tied with the Maries with four each. I lumped the Signal Corps, Army Air Corps, Army Air Force, and the Air Force together, they garnered three medals.
CMoH recipients are spread across 26 of the state’s 72 counties, or 36% coverage. Milwaukee County has 12; Rock 4; Chippewa, Dane, Fond du Lac, Jefferson, Racine, Sauk, and Waupaca each have two. Not all recipients were born in their noted county. In some cases, it is an enlistment location.
Wisconsin recipients include 17 medals that were awarded posthumously.
CMoH recipient Franklin van Valkenburgh, born in Minneapolis on April 5, 1888, grew up in Milwaukee, and was appointed to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis from Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District in 1905. Why should we all recognize Captain van Valkenburgh’s name? He was the Commanding Officer on the USS Arizona and was lost with his ship on December 7, 1941. I am an aviation history nerd and am embarrassed to ask, why didn’t I know this?
My rare opportunity to hear two living recipients speak at AirVenture led me to do further study on these men and their fellow heroes. If you find this subject of interest, I suggest you begin your research at www.cmohs.org.
Patrick H. Brady is the author of the book, Dead Men Flying, the legend of Dust Off: America’s Battlefield Angels. You can view his tribute video at: www.cmohs.org/news-events/video-library/brady-patrick-vietnam-war.
Sammy L. Davis is the author of You Don’t Lose ‘Til You Quit Trying: Lessons on Adversity and Victory from a Vietnam Veteran and Medal of Honor Recipient. "No matter what you're faced with, you don't lose until you quit," says Davis." His tribute video is available at www.cmohs.org/news-events/video-library/davis-sammy-vietnam-war.