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Today's Medal of Honor Moment for 5 June

Today is fairly busy day in the history of the Medal of Honor - starting off with 6 awards from the Civil War - and, we'll lead with quality, the Redleg in the group, Lieutenant Avery:


Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 1st New York Marine Artillery. Place and date: At Tranters Creek, N.C., 5 June 1862. Entered service at: Providence, R.I. Born: 10 September 1840, Providence, R.I. Date of issue: 2 September 1893. Citation: Handled his battery with greatest coolness amidst the hottest fire.


Rank and organization: Captain, Company F, 3d Vermont Infantry. Place and date: At Cold Harbor, Va., 5 June 1864. Entered service at: Vermont. Born: 29 July 1828, Ryegate, Vt. Date of issue: 25 April 1894. Citation: Removed, under a hot fire, a wounded member of his command to a place of safety.


Rank and organization: Private, Company D, 54th Pennsylvania Infantry. Place and date: At Piedmont, Va., 5 June 1864. Entered service at: Cambria County, Pa. Birth: Wales. Date of issue: 26 November 1864. Citation: Capture of flag of 45th Virginia (C.S.A.).


Rank and organization: Private, Company B, 3d Pennsylvania Cavalry. Place and date: On the Peninsula, Va., 5 June 1862. Entered service at: Philadelphia, Pa. Birth: Philadelphia, Pa. Date of issue: 2 August 1897. Citation: While under fire, between the lines of the 2 armies, voluntarily gave up his own horse to an engineer officer whom he was accompanying on a reconnaissance and whose horse had been killed, thus enabling the officer to escape with valuable papers in his possession.


Rank and organization: Musician, Company E, 54th Pennsylvania Infantry. Place and date: At Piedmont, Va., 5 June 1864. Entered service at: Johnstown, Pa. Birth: Scotland. Dates of issue: 11 September 1897. Citation: Left his place in the rear, took the rifle of a disabled soldier, and fought through the remainder of the action.


Rank and organization: Major General, U.S. Volunteers. Place and date: At Piedmont, Va., 5 June 1864. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Born: 5 November 1825, Hungary. Date of issue: 4 November 1893. Citation: Led his division into action until he was severely wounded.

Now we move on to WWII, and open with LTC Leon Vance.  You want a sense of the man? 

An official Army press release issued four days later noted, "In a test of physical stamina that defies explanation the one-legged man swam for three miles in the icy water for forty-five minutes before he was picked up by arerescue (sic) ship." Quickly but carefully the British crew of the launch pulled the barely-conscious American officer from the water, his right foot still dangling on its tendons. Vance managed a quick smile and joked, "Don't forget to bring my foot in."

*VANCE, LEON R., Jr (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army Corps, 489th Bomber Group. Place and date: Over Wimereaux. France, 5 June 1944. Entered service at. Garden City, N.Y. Born: 11 August 1916, Enid, Okla . G.O. No. . 1, 4 January 1 945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 5 June 1944, when he led a Heavy Bombardment Group, in an attack against defended enemy coastal positions in the vicinity of Wimereaux, France. Approaching the target, his aircraft was hit repeatedly by antiaircraft fire which seriously crippled the ship, killed the pilot, and wounded several members of the crew, including Lt. Col. Vance, whose right foot was practically severed. In spite of his injury, and with 3 engines lost to the flak, he led his formation over the target, bombing it successfully. After applying a tourniquet to his leg with the aid of the radar operator, Lt. Col. Vance, realizing that the ship was approaching a stall altitude with the 1 remaining engine failing, struggled to a semi-upright position beside the copilot and took over control of the ship. Cutting the power and feathering the last engine he put the aircraft in glide sufficiently steep to maintain his airspeed. Gradually losing altitude, he at last reached the English coast, whereupon he ordered all members of the crew to bail out as he knew they would all safely make land. But he received a message over the interphone system which led him to believe 1 of the crewmembers was unable to jump due to injuries; so he made the decision to ditch the ship in the channel, thereby giving this man a chance for life. To add further to the danger of ditching the ship in his crippled condition, there was a 500-pound bomb hung up in the bomb bay. Unable to climb into the seat vacated by the copilot, since his foot, hanging on to his leg by a few tendons, had become lodged behind the copilot's seat, he nevertheless made a successful ditching while lying on the floor using only aileron and elevators for control and the side window of the cockpit for visual reference. On coming to rest in the water the aircraft commenced to sink rapidly with Lt. Col. Vance pinned in the cockpit by the upper turret which had crashed in during the landing. As it was settling beneath the waves an explosion occurred which threw Lt. Col. Vance clear of the wreckage. After clinging to a piece of floating wreckage until he could muster enough strength to inflate his life vest he began searching for the crewmember whom he believed to be aboard. Failing to find anyone he began swimming and was found approximately 50 minutes later by an Air-Sea Rescue craft. By his extraordinary flying skill and gallant leadership, despite his grave injury, Lt. Col. Vance led his formation to a successful bombing of the assigned target and returned the crew to a point where they could bail out with safety. His gallant and valorous decision to ditch the aircraft in order to give the crewmember he believed to be aboard a chance for life exemplifies the highest traditions of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Lieutenant Colonel Vance entered the service from Enid, Oklahoma, so Vance Air Force Base in Enid is named for him.  In an unfair twist of the Dagger of Irony, Lieutenant Colonel Vance died on 26 June, 1944, when the evacuation flight to the United States he was in got lost in fog and is presumed to have crashed into the ocean.  One can only assume that G-d was determined to call Leon home.  For a richer story about LTC Vance, see his entry at the Home of Heroes - which is where the opening vignette came from.

Next comes Corporal Harry Harr of the 124th Infantry, who earned his Medal of Honor in a little noted fight during the endgame of the fighting on Mindanao, in the Phillipines.  Unlike the Nisei soldiers noted earlier this week, Corporal Harr's actions made it into the official Army campaign history:

As the 31st Division was fighting up the Sayre Highway, General Eichelberger had ordered the 108th Infantry, 40th Division, to land at Macajalar Bay and open the Sayre Highway from the north. The regiment, commanded by Col. Maurice D. Stratta, moved ashore unopposed on 10 May and headed south. On 13 May Stratta's regiment ran into strong Japanese defenses in a steep river canyon that loomed over the highway. Four days were required to take the enemy positions, but afterwards the regiment encountered little opposition. The 108th Infantry's juncture with Hanna's 155th Infantry meant total American control of the Sayre Highway.

Now General Morozumi and the 30th Division showed a marked disinclination to fight, preferring to retreat into the mountains to the east. The continual pursuit by the 31st Division led to a sharp engagement on 5 June, during which Cpl. Harry K. Harr saved four fellow soldiers when he threw himself on a Japanese grenade. Harr was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Still the Americans pursued and the Japanese continued their withdrawal beyond Silae into the Agusan Valley. As before, both attackers and defenders had to deal with the island's terrain and weather, as torrential downpours turned every piece of ground into a quagmire and exacerbated the problems of movement and supply.


Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Company D, 124th Infantry, 31st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Maglamin, Mindanao, Philippine Islands, 5 June 1945. Entered service at: East Freedom, Pa. Birth: Pine Croft, Pa. G.O. No.: 28, 28 March 1946. Citation: He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity. In a fierce counterattack, the Japanese closed in on his machinegun emplacement, hurling hand grenades, 1 of which exploded under the gun, putting it out of action and wounding 2 of the crew. While the remaining gunners were desperately attempting to repair their weapon another grenade landed squarely in the emplacement. Quickly realizing he could not safely throw the unexploded missile from the crowded position, Cpl. Harr unhesitatingly covered it with his body to smother the blast. His supremely courageous act, which cost him his life, saved 4 of his comrades and enabled them to continue their mission.
Now we move to Korea, 1951, and one very tough Master Sergeant, who used all the tools of the trade at his disposal - rifle, bayonet, entrenching tool.  Just another example of the kind of small unit leaders you need if you're going to win a war.  Google books has an eyewitness account.


Rank and organization: First Lieutenant (then M/Sgt.), U.S. Army Company I, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Hwach'on-Myon, Korea, 5 June 1951. Entered service at: Vashon, Wash. Birth: Vashon, Wash. G.O. No.: 69, 23 September 1954. Citation: 1st Lt. Wilson distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and indomitable courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. Company I was committed to attack and secure commanding terrain stubbornly defended by a numerically superior hostile force emplaced in well-fortified positions. When the spearheading element was pinned down by withering hostile fire, he dashed forward and, firing his rifle and throwing grenades, neutralized the position denying the advance and killed 4 enemy soldiers manning submachineguns. After the assault platoon moved up, occupied the position, and a base of fire was established, he led a bayonet attack which reduced the objective and killed approximately 27 hostile soldiers. While friendly forces were consolidating the newly won gain, the enemy launched a counterattack and 1st Lt. Wilson, realizing the imminent threat of being overrun, made a determined lone-man charge, killing 7 and wounding 2 of the enemy, and routing the remainder in disorder. After the position was organized, he led an assault carrying to approximately 15 yards of the final objective, when enemy fire halted the advance. He ordered the platoon to withdraw and, although painfully wounded in this action, remained to provide covering fire. During an ensuing counterattack, the commanding officer and 1st Platoon leader became casualties. Unhesitatingly, 1st Lt. Wilson charged the enemy ranks and fought valiantly, killing 3 enemy soldiers with his rifle before it was wrested from his hands, and annihilating 4 others with his entrenching tool. His courageous delaying action enabled his comrades to reorganize and effect an orderly withdrawal. While directing evacuation of the wounded, he suffered a second wound, but elected to remain on the position until assured that all of the men had reached safety. 1st Lt. Wilson's sustained valor and intrepid actions reflect utmost credit upon himself and uphold the honored traditions of the military service.
But wait!  There's more!  Master Sergeant Wilson wasn't finished, nosiree!  Wilson's company again attacked “Hell Hill” on June 6, one day later than the fight he earned the Medal in.  In the second fight, First Sergeant Wilson killed 33 more Chinese, with his preferred tools: rifle, bayonet, and hand grenades in a similar one-man assault like he made the day before.  In doing so, he tore open his wounds from the day before, which resulted in his evacuation before he single-handedly decimated the CCF.  He was again recommended for the Medal of Honor, but Army policy
prohibited multiple award, so he received the Distinguished Service Cross instead.  He was commissioned when he returned to the United States. He retired from the Army as a major in 1960 and died in Hawaii in 1988.

And lastly, Vietnam, and Staff Sergeant Jon Cavaiani.


Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Vietnam Training Advisory Group, Republic of Vietnam. Place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 4 and 5 June 1971. Entered service at: Fresno, Calif. Born: 2 August 1943, Royston, England. Citation: S/Sgt. Cavaiani distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action in the Republic of Vietnam on 4 and 5 June 1971 while serving as a platoon leader to a security platoon providing security for an isolated radio relay site located within enemy-held territory. On the morning of 4 June 1971, the entire camp came under an intense barrage of enemy small arms, automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenade and mortar fire from a superior size enemy force. S/Sgt. Cavaiani acted with complete disregard for his personal safety as he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy enemy fire in order to move about the camp's perimeter directing the platoon's fire and rallying the platoon in a desperate fight for survival. S/Sgt. Cavaiani also returned heavy suppressive fire upon the assaulting enemy force during this period with a variety of weapons. When the entire platoon was to be evacuated, S/Sgt. Cavaiani unhesitatingly volunteered to remain on the ground and direct the helicopters into the landing zone. S/Sgt. Cavaiani was able to direct the first 3 helicopters in evacuating a major portion of the platoon. Due to intense increase in enemy fire, S/Sgt. Cavaiani was forced to remain at the camp overnight where he calmly directed the remaining platoon members in strengthening their defenses. On the morning of S June, a heavy ground fog restricted visibility. The superior size enemy force launched a major ground attack in an attempt to completely annihilate the remaining small force. The enemy force advanced in 2 ranks, first firing a heavy volume of small arms automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire while the second rank continuously threw a steady barrage of hand grenades at the beleaguered force. S/Sgt. Cavaiani returned a heavy barrage of small arms and hand grenade fire on the assaulting enemy force but was unable to slow them down. He ordered the remaining platoon members to attempt to escape while he provided them with cover fire. With 1 last courageous exertion, S/Sgt. Cavaiani recovered a machine gun, stood up, completely exposing himself to the heavy enemy fire directed at him, and began firing the machine gun in a sweeping motion along the 2 ranks of advancing enemy soldiers. Through S/Sgt. Cavaiani's valiant efforts with complete disregard for his safety, the majority of the remaining platoon members were able to escape. While inflicting severe losses on the advancing enemy force, S/Sgt. Cavaiani was wounded numerous times. S/Sgt. Cavaiani's conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
 *Indicates a posthumous award.