1900: After fighting their way 80 miles from the port of Tientsin, an eight-nation relief force (the United States, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, and Italy) arrives at the walls of Peking. A young Marine private named Dan Daly earns his first of two Medals of Honor during the battle by single-handedly holding off hundreds of Chinese soldiers. Meanwhile, U.S. Army Cpl. Calvin P. Titus (depicted above, holding flag) earns the Medal of Honor for volunteering to scale the city wall surrounding Peking. The troops break the siege, effectively bringing an end to the Boxer Rebellion.
In our nation’s history, only two Marines earned the Medal of Honor for two seperate actions — Dan Daly and Smedley Butler, both of whom fought at Peking. 18-year-old captain (having just received a brevet promotion for valor at Tientsin) Butler was wounded in this day’s action, and would say that Daly was “The fightin’est Marine I ever knew.”
If you had to sit down with a pencil and paper and come up with who you think is the best soldier in American history, who would you choose?
Before we ask who we would choose, we better think of HOW we would choose, because to call this a hard question would be an epic understatement. How would we even pick what elements factor in? To make things easier, perhaps we could name some of our most famous fighting men and work backwards to the question. General George S. Patton and Gen. “Chesty” Puller probably come to mind for most history buffs; both were legendary leaders and tremendous force multipliers. If there was no Patton leading tanks across Europe or Puller commanding Marines in the Pacific, you could safely make the case that World War II would have been longer and more costly.
But narrowing our hypothetical question down to famous officers is too narrow of a scope. Besides, if you invented a program that mass-produced officers on par with Patton and Puller, but didn’t have spectacular privates and non-commissioned officers to command, that force would be combat ineffective. So what about enlisted soldiers like Audie Murphy, who is perhaps the most-decorated soldier in our history? We have to be careful when considering medals, because the military awards process is flawed and highly subjective; for example, the chain of command can lose paperwork (perhaps intentionally); acts can go unwitnessed, such as if the whole unit is wiped out; the war might be unpopular; the secretive nature of special operations forces or combat taking place in sensitive areas; or any of a number of other factors. Plus sometimes well-connected people, like Naval officer (and U.S. Congressman) Lyndon B. Johnson, are awarded medals that they didn’t earn.
Though the system has its flaws, at least medals are a decent indicator of valor, and that is why we publish citations for valor on this site.
1794: President George Washington calls on the governors of Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to mobilize troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington himself will lead the army – the only time a sitting president commands troops in the field. Henry “Light Horse” Lee, veteran of the American Revolution and father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee will also lead troops, and also participating in the campaign is Pvt. Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
1912: Four Marine battalions – including one led by Maj. Smedley Butler – converge and assault the fortress atop the 500-ft. Coyotepe Hill. Nicaraguan rebel commander Gen. Benjamin Zeledón is killed during the battle, and the rebellion effectively ends once the Marines capture the city of León in two days.
Butler, a veteran of the Boxer Rebellion, Banana Wars, Mexican Revolution, and World War I, is the only Marine in history to be awarded two Medal of Honors and the Marine Corps Brevet Medal. His Medal of Honor citations can be read here: 1st award / 2nd award
1950: Major League Baseball rules that Philadelphia Phillies’ 17-game winner Curt Simmons, who had been drafted by the Army for service during the Korean War, would not be eligible to pitch in the World Series, despite the fact that he was on furlough.
1962: Cmdr. Walter M. “Wally” Schirra, Jr. (USN) becomes the fifth American in space when he orbits the earth six times in his Sigma 7 capsule. After a nine-hour flight, he splashes down just half a mile from the recovery ship USS Kearsarge (CVS-33), joking that his target was the carrier’s “number three elevator.”
1993: Special operations forces board several Army Black Hawk helicopters and set out to capture the Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The snatch-and-grab operation was supposed to take only one hour, but when a rocket-propelled-grenade takes out one of the helicopters, Operation “Gothic Serpent” begins to spin out of control. As the vehicle convoy, originally intended to haul the captured leaders of the Habr Gidr clan, races through barricaded streets to establish a security perimeter around the first Black Hawk, another Black Hawk is shot down.
With resources stretched to the maximum and the vehicle convoy unable to reach the crash sites, Delta Force snipers Master Sgt. Gary I. Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall D. Shughart volunteer to land and provide cover fire for the second downed helicopter. Both are overrun and killed while protecting the four wounded crew members in the face of overwhelming numbers, and will be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison assembles a quick reaction force of 100 UN and 10th Mountain Division vehicles as the task force battles through the night. 19 American service members will be killed and 73 wounded during the intense urban combat of the Battle of Mogadishu. Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Durant, one of the downed Black Hawk pilots, is captured and held as a prisoner for 11 days.
2010: 92 years after the end of World War I, Germany makes its last reparation payment demanded by the Treaty of Versailles.
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to
SMEDLEY DARLINGTON BUTLER
for service as set forth in the following
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor (Second Award) to Major Smedley Darlington Butler, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism in action as Commanding Officer of detachments from the 5th, 13th, 23d Companies and the Marine and Sailor Detachment from the U.S.S. CONNECTICUT, Major Butler led the attack on Fort Riviere, Haiti, on 17 November 1915. Following a concentrated drive, several different detachments of Marines gradually closed in on the old French bastion fort in an effort to cut off all avenues of retreat for the Caco bandits. Reaching the fort on the southern side where there was a small opening in the wall, Major Butler gave the signal to attack and Marines from the 15th Company poured through the breach, engaged the Cacos in hand-to-hand combat, took the bastion and crushed the Caco resistance. Throughout this perilous action, Major Butler was conspicuous for his bravery and forceful leadership.
Born: July 30, 1881 in West Chester, Pa…. Departed: June 21, 1940… When war broke out between the United States and Spain, a 16-year-old Butler lied to recruiters about his age and received a commission in the Marine Corps in 1898… One of two Marines to be awarded two Medals of Honor for two separate engagements… Also awarded the Marine Corps Brevet Medal – which is comparable to the Medal of Honor, and both the Army and Navy Distinguished Service Medals… Served during the the Spanish-American War, the Philippines, Boxer Rebellion, Banana Wars, Mexican Revolution, and World War I… Retired as Major General in 1931… Interred: Oaklands Cemetery in West Chester, Pa.