Sunday, August 28, 2016

Medals of Honor — fathers and sons

Arthur MacArthur, Jr.
Arthur MacArthur, Jr., and his son, Douglas MacArthur, became the first father and son Medal of Honor recipients. Arthur MacArthur, 19-year-old first lieutenant of the 24th Wisconsin Infantry in the American Civil War, was awarded the Medal for actions in the Battle of Missionary Ridge, east of Chattanooga. In the stunning Union assault on November 25, 1863, MacArthur led his men with a shout of "On Wisconsin," and planted the regimental colors atop the ridge.

General Douglas MacArthur, 1940s,
by John Florea, Life Photo Collection
Douglas, 62-years-old when he was awarded the Medal, may be the oldest recipient. George Marshall penned his citation which read, in part:

"For conspicuous leadership in preparing the Philippine Islands to resist conquest. . . . He mobilized, trained, and led an army which has received world acclaim for its gallant defense against a tremendous superiority of enemy forces in men and arms. His utter disregard of personal danger under heavy fire and aerial bombardment, his calm judgment in each crisis, inspired his troops, galvanized the spirit of resistance of the Filipino people, and confirmed the faith of the American people in their Armed Forces.” 

"Eisenhower pointed out that MacArthur had not actually performed any acts of valor as required by law, but Marshall cited the 1927 award of the medal to Charles Lindbergh as a precedent" [Wikipedia].

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
The next father and son recipients were President Theodore Roosevelt and his son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. While junior received the award posthumously for valor at Utah Beach, Normandy, in June, 1944 (Roosevelt died of a heart attack just over a month after D-Day), it wasn’t until 2001 that Teddy Roosevelt (likewise posthumously) received the award for actions at San Juan Hill in 1898. Read a fascinating four-part article on Roosevelt’s persistent efforts to receive the award here (note: the article was written a few years before 2001).

Teddy Roosevelt
Library of Congress

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interestingly, one of each of the awards among these father-son pairs is materially problematic, which is no coincidence considering the unlikely pairing of fathers and sons (particularly with modern MoH criteria). The Douglas MacArthur recommendation was actually ordered by George Marshall (twice) to save his reputation, but was ultimately unlawful. Marshall wrote the citation himself. Leadership had not been an accepted route to the medal since the 1890s, when Army regulations started to formulate an early version of the "above and beyond" duty requirement that was eventually codified in 1918. Since it's an officer's duty to lead from the front, ordinary leadership actions cannot satisfy that heroism requirement, because it would essentially be rewarding what they're already duty-bound to perform. In MacArthur's case, Marshall believed that the MoH that was authorized for Charles Lindbergh in the interwar period was a precedent. That was incorrect, because Lindbergh received a medal as a result of a bill of relief, meaning that Congress waived the public law criteria. Since no such waiver was approved for MacArthur, his medal is simply unlawful.

The Teddy Roosevelt medal is interesting for a number of reasons. I'm sure you're aware that he lobbied for the medal himself in the early 1900s, going so far as to enlist powerful supporters to pressure the secretary of war. While he might have subjectively deserved it, I think it's also true that he probably ought to have been denied the medal on the grounds that he inappropriately lobbied the war department, potentially creating a precedent for others to strong-arm the government. When the issue was raised again in the 1990s, the Army concluded again that he did not deserve the award under recently codified procedures for considering waivers for statutes of limitations under 10 USC 1130, which were enacted in 1996 with the stated intent of deferring to the military department's judgment in these types of cases. Nevertheless, proponents for the award apparently submitted the award again, and the Army changed its mind in the face of withering political pressure-- the very type of pressure that 1130 was designed to prevent. So, while Roosevelt's medal is technically legitimate (unlike MacArthur's), it was disapproved twice by the Army for lack of heroism, and likely was only the product of political pressure.