At the headquarters of the California Department of Veterans Affairs in Sacramento, the Medal of Honor Wall honors 173 Californians who received the nation’s highest military honor. Plaques honor many of them in the adjacent Medal of Honor Hall as well.
“Our admiration and respect for the Californians, and to all others who received the Medal of Honor, is obvious the moment you enter our building,” said CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani MD. “Many made the ultimate sacrifice; every one of them went above and beyond the call of duty.”
Three Californians – Edward B. Williston (Army), Henry H. Crocker (Army) and Samuel Woods (Navy) – fought for the Union during the Civil War, which all three survived. All three were living 158 years ago today, when President Lincoln signed the United States Army Medal of Honor into law. It followed the creation of the U.S. Navy Medal of Valor, and in 1863, the Medal of Honor became the permanent highest honor for all branches of the military.
Williston earned his honor for gallantry in destroying Confederate railroad tracks in Virginia in 1863, and brevetted to major on July 3, 1863 during the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. He remained in the Army and continued to move through the ranks until his forced retirement in 1899. He became a Brigadier General in retirement, by Act of Congress of April 23, 1904. The baseball card company Topps included a collector card of Williston in its Medal of Honor series.
A bartender in Oakland before the war, Crocker joined the California Battalion. He rose to captain and volunteered to lead a charge in which they captured 14 Confederates on October 19, 1864, at Cedar Creek in Virginia. Crocker suffered wounds during charge, but recovered and left the Army as a lieutenant.
Woods, a Navy Seaman, served on the U.S.S. Mount Washington during a battle on the Nansemond River in Virginia, in April 1863. He dove in after a comrade who was shot and fell into the river, then returned to his gun for the remainder of the battle.
CalVet’s Medal of Honor Wall includes Jimmy Doolittle, who led the first air raids on Tokyo during World War II in 1941. It includes Nelson Holderman, a World War I hero who, despite being wounded three times in four days, led the “Lost Battalion” as they kept the Germans at bay despite their repeated attack. Holderman recovered from his wounds, and served as the administrator of the Veterans Home of California-Yountville from 1926 until his death in 1953.
The Wall also includes Sadao Munemori, an Army private who fell on a live grenade to save the lives of his comrades in Italy in 1945. He became the only Japanese-American Medal of Honor recipient during or immediately after World War II. A freeway interchange in Los Angeles bears his name.
Five other Japanese-Americans on CalVet’s MOH wall – Kiyoshe Muranaga, Joe Nishimoto, Kazuo Otani, George Sakato and Ted Tanouye – didn’t receive their recognition until 2001, when President Clinton honored 22 Japanese-Americans heroes at a ceremony in Washington. Of the Californians, only Sakato lived to receive his Medal of Honor. The other four died in battle.
CalVet is proud of the California Medal of Honor Hall at their headquarters in Sacramento and revered to have five Medal of Honor recipients buried at two of the state run veterans cemeteries, four of them in Yountville: Alejandro R. Ruiz (WWII), John Moriarty (Cavalry) and Julius Stickoffer (Cavalry), and Joseph Leonard (Philippines Insurrection). James E. Swett (WWII) is buried in the Northern California Veterans Cemetery at Igo.
Each name in the Medal of Honor Hall represents a story of valor and gallantry in battle, whether on land, at sea or the air while defending the nation.
What about Tibor Rubin? He’s the only Holocaust survivor to be awarded the CMH. He was also put up for it 4 times and he did not receive it until September 23, 2005 at the age of 76 because of a prejudiced first sergeant.