Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Legislation to restore Medal of Honor upkeep passes Senate vote

Daily Inter Lake | May 17, 2024 12:05 AM

Private Fred Hunt received a Medal of Honor through the U.S. Army on Jan. 8, 1877, in Cedar Creek, Montana. The Medal of Honor is considered one of the highest honors awarded in the military.

However, because he served before 1917, his grave does not qualify through the Department of Veterans Affairs to get a refurbished headstone, grave marker or medallion — a common way to acknowledge the sacrifices of Medal of Honor recipients.

The Mark Our Place Act, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, looks to change that reality by allowing all awardees the opportunity to have their markings updated. 

The act, introduced by Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., passed the Senate on May 1. 

“What we’re doing is bringing all Medal of Honor recipients to the same level of treatment,” Tester said earlier this week.

Of the 17 Medal of Honor recipients buried in Montana, 14 of them earned the medal prior to 1917. 

There were many Medals of Honor awarded prior to the 1920s, but in 1917, in light of World War I, the government attempted to take some of them back. 

After a lengthy review, 911 recipients were removed from the Medal of Honor roll as cases where the medal was “erroneously bestowed,” according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. 

From that point forward, Congress imposed a new standard for the medal, officially asserting it as the highest honor, requiring gallantry beyond the call of an officer or enlisted person at the risk of their life or limbs 

In light of the new standards, those who received the medal before 1917 do not qualify for headstone upkeep or updates, even if their medal wasn’t revoked, like in Hunt’s case. 

“It is a shame the disrepair of the grave sites of many of our decorated heroes, including those who received the Medal of Honor prior to World War I,” said Doug Sterner, editor and curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor in Kalispell.

There is a common misconception that Medals of Honor were handed out “frivolously” before World War I, Sterner said, which he says is “simply not true.”

“In fact, when one researches the broader story of what these pre-World War I heroes did, there are some incredible stories of uncommon bravery. Kudos to Senator Tester for doing this,” he continued. 

The legislation, according to Tester, will hopefully fix the “screw up” Congress made 100 years ago when they stripped the right away from the awardees. 

“What this country is today, there are many people who have fought and died… we need to keep those folks in mind when we celebrate the freedoms that we have today,” Tester said. 

Private Hunt is not the only veteran buried in Montana to receive a Medal of Honor before the 1917 cutoff. Farrier Ernest Veuve was awarded a medal in 1874 for gallantry in Texas. Corporal Harry Garland was awarded the medal in Little Muddy Creek, Montana in 1877. Private Michael Himmelsback was the first, receiving the medal in 1870 in Nebraska.

All three men are buried in Missoula. 

Henry Hogan is one of only 19 men to earn the Medal of Honor twice; he is also buried in Montana, in Miles City. 

“Our commonsense bill will ensure we’re preserving these heroes' legacies by rightfully memorializing all Medal of Honor recipients, and I urge my colleagues in the House to quickly take action on this legislation,” Tester stated in a press release.

The bill now awaits a vote on the House floor.

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.