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Created by act of Congress in 1861 for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, and in 1862 for the U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor is the highest military award for bravery in the United States. It is traditionally awarded only to members of the armed forces for valor and/or self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty while in combat, and, because it is presented in the name of Congress, it is often mistakenly called the Congressional Medal of Honor. Since 1863, 3,456 Americans from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have received the medal, including twenty-eight with ties to Oklahoma.

Those twenty-eight represent the army (21), the army air forces (2), the navy (2), and the Marine Corps (3), and served in the Philippine War (1), World War I (3), World War II (20), and both the Korean (2) and Vietnam wars (2). Twenty-one recipients were born in Oklahoma (the other seven enlisted there), and more than half (16) posthumously were awarded the Medal of Honor. Interestingly, almost all of the recipients hail from smaller Oklahoma towns such as Pawnee, which is the only Oklahoma community to produce two Medal of Honor winners (Maj. Kenneth Bailey and Comdr. Ernest Edwin Evans).

Native-born Oklahomans awarded the Medal of Honor include SFC Tony K. Burris of Blanchard, who died on Heartbreak Ridge in 1951 after killing twenty enemy soldiers and destroying enemy emplacements while severely wounded; T.Sgt. Charles F. Carey, Jr., of Canadian, who lost his life battling more than two hundred enemy soldiers in France in January 1945; Comdr. Ernest Evans of Pawnee, the captain of the USS Johnston, who died while charging the Japanese fleet in order to cover the withdrawal of nearby escort carriers during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944; Maj. Kenneth D. Bailey, also of Pawnee, who commanded the First Marine Raider Battalion and was killed during the defense of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in September 1942; Lt. Richard Miles McCool, Jr., of Tishomingo, who commanded a transport ship off Okinawa and directed rescue efforts and defensive operations against several waves of kamikaze attacks in spite of severe burns in 1945; S.Sgt. Rubin Rivers of Oklahoma City, who fought for three days while wounded in France and died covering the withdrawal of his tank platoon in 1944; and Lt. Col. Leon R. Vance, Jr., of Enid, who stayed with his stricken bomber in spite of grievous wounds and died after ditching it in the English Channel so that a crewman he believed still on board the plane might escape in 1944 (Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, is named in his honor).

The other Medal of Honor recipients born in Oklahoma are: 2d Lt. Ernest Childers of Broken Arrow; S.Sgt. John R. Crews of Golden; 1st Lt. Donald J. Gott of Arnett; 1st Lt. Frederick F. Henry of Vian; Pvt. Harold G. Kiner of Aline; 1st Lt. Jack C. Montgomery of Long; PFC Manuel Perez, Jr., of Oklahoma City; S.Sgt. Larry S. Pierce of Wewoka; Capt. Riley L. Pitts of Fallis; PFC John N. Reese, Jr., of Muskogee; PFC Henry Schauer of Clinton; PFC William R. Shockley of Bokoshe; Maj. John Lucian Smith of Lexington; and PFC Herman C. Wallace of Marlow.

Among the most famous Medal of Honor recipients who were born elsewhere but enlisted in Oklahoma are 1st Lt. George Price Hays, who enlisted in Okarche and had seven horses shot from under him while serving as a runner in France during July 1918; SFC Troy A. McGill, who enlisted in Ada and killed more than 105 enemy soldiers before succumbing to his wounds during a battle in the Los Negros Islands in 1944; and Capt. Jack L. Treadwell, who enlisted in Snyder and captured six pillboxes and more than eighteen soldiers during fighting in Germany in 1945. The remaining men who received the Medal of Honor after enlisting in Oklahoma are Pvt. Joseph L. Epps, who enlisted in Indian Territory and fought in the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 1902; Cpl. Samuel M. Sampler, who enlisted in Altus and fought in France during World War I; PFC Albert Earnest Schwab, who enlisted in Tulsa and was killed on Okinawa during World War II after destroying several machine gun positions with a flamethrower; and Cpl. Harold L. Turner, who enlisted in Seminole and captured fifty German soldiers during World War I.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. J. Proft, ed., United States of America's Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients and Their Official Citations (3d ed.; Columbia Heights, Minn.: Highland House II, 2001).

Lance Janda

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