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The Congressional Medal of Honor

  Perhaps the most prestigious award to receive from the military forces in time of combat, is the Medal of Honor. All too often the medal is received posthumously. However, quite a number of recipients live to receive the medal and the recognition they so richly deserve.

The history of the Medal of Honor dates back to the American Civil War. It was authorized by Congress as an award of the highest distinction to Officers and men of the Navy (1861) and Army (1862), for supreme gallantry in action. The medal for the Army is a bronze five-pointed star superimposed on a green enameled laurel wreath, with trefoils on the rays of the star. A central medallion bears the head of Minerva in relief, encircled by the inscription, "United State of America." It hangs from a bar bearing the spread eagle. The reverse of the bar is engraved, "The Congress to..........

Although the medal (Army) was authorized in 1862, the first medal issued took place in 1863. Since that time, 3,410 medals have been awarded. Of these, 728 recipients were of foreign birth. One source of information provided the following statistics regarding the recipients. For the purpose of this presentation, only double and triple figures will be illustrated.









257 126 95 52 38 19 16 10

The aforementioned figures would suggest that men of Irish birth and decent, dominate the numbers by better than double those of Germany, the next highest foreign country. The following is a brief presentation of three men of Irish birth who received the Medal of Honor for gallantry during the American Civil War.

The military records of Sergeant Peter Rafferty indicate he was born in Ireland and on July 23rd, 1897, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for "most distinguished gallantry in action at Malvern Hill, July 1, 1862. The medal took thirty five years to get to Rafferty. Private Timothy Donoghue's military and pension records also indicate he was born in Ireland and resided in Brooklyn, NY. Private Donoghue was also awarded the Medal of Honor, he received the award January 17, 1894 for "gallantry above and beyond the call of duty" at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. Donoghue's medal only took thirty two years. Both receivers were enlisted men. The two men were also members of the Irish Brigade and both served with B Company, 69th New York Infantry.

The third recipient of the Medal of Honor was a Tipperary man by the name of James Quinlan. Lt-Col Quinlan's influence continues in Irish circles, particularly in Orange County, New York, today. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 3, Orange County, New York, proudly named their Division the Lt-Col James Quinlan Division. Colonel Quinlan was a Major with the 88th New York at the Battle of Savage Station, Virginia, June 28, 1862, and "led his regiment on the enemy's battery, silenced the guns, held the position against overwhelming numbers, and covered the retreat of the Second Army Corps." The award was made on March 6, 1891, twenty nine years after the fact. Colonel Quinlan enjoyed the possession of this covet award for the remaining fifteen years of his life. The Colonel died on August 29, 1906, aged 72 years.

These references do not begin to illustrate the bravery and contributions the Irish made on many battlefields, over many years, in the service of their adopted country.

I worked with a fellow, John O'Malley, his brother Robert was awarded the Medal of Honor. I came across the write-up and thought I would share it.

Rank and organization: Sergeant (then Cpl.), U .S. Marine Corps, Company 1, 3d Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division (Rein). Place and date: Near An Cu'ong 2, South Vietnam, 18 August 1965. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Born: 3 June 1943, New York, N.Y. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the communist (Viet Cong) forces at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. While leading his squad in the assault against a strongly entrenched enemy force, his unit came under intense small-arms fire. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Sgt. O'Malley raced across an open rice paddy to a trench line where the enemy forces were located. Jumping into the trench, he attacked the Viet Cong with his rifle and grenades, and singly killed 8 of the enemy. He then led his squad to the assistance of an adjacent marine unit which was suffering heavy casualties. Continuing to press forward, he reloaded his weapon and fired with telling effect into the enemy emplacement. He personally assisted in the evacuation of several wounded marines, and again regrouping the remnants of his squad, he returned to the point of the heaviest fighting. Ordered to an evacuation point by an officer, Sgt. O'Malley gathered his besieged and badly wounded squad, and boldly led them under fire to a helicopter for withdrawal. Although 3 times wounded in this encounter, and facing imminent death from a fanatic and determined enemy, he steadfastly refused evacuation and continued to cover his squad's boarding of the helicopters while, from an exposed position, he delivered fire against the enemy until his wounded men were evacuated. Only then, with his last mission accomplished, did he permit himself to be removed from the battlefield. By his valor, leadership, and courageous efforts in behalf of his comrades, he served as an inspiration to all who observed him, and reflected the highest credit upon the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service.




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