After 151 Years, Soldier Gets Medal of Honor

By Hoskinson, Charles | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, November 6, 2014 | Go to article overview

After 151 Years, Soldier Gets Medal of Honor


Hoskinson, Charles, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


Nobody doubts the incredible bravery of Lt. Alonzo Cushing's final stand during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

Twice wounded, he continued to direct cannon fire against advancing Confederates until he was killed by a fatal shot to the head. It was his death that kept him from receiving the nation's highest award for battlefield bravery, the Medal of Honor.

On Thursday, President Obama will award the medal to Cushing's closest living relatives in a White House ceremony, fixing what supporters say is a 151-year-old injustice. Cushing, who was 22 when he died, had no children, and so much time has passed since his death that the award ceremony, originally scheduled for September, was delayed to allow officials to locate relatives to receive the medal.

But despite the clear record of his bravery, Cushing's Medal of Honor is controversial. Congress, which had to approve the award, rejected it in 2012 before finally approving it last year. Many historians and lawmakers argue that it's a bad idea to reopen old cases.

"My fear with all of this is there's going to be all kinds of people coming out of the woodwork," said Civil War historian Eric Wittenberg. "Do we want to open up that can of worms all these years later?"

To see why, one need look no further than Cushing's own brother, Navy Cmdr. William Cushing, who led a daring torpedo raid behind enemy lines that destroyed the Confederate ironclad Albemarle on Oct. 27, 1864, and also was never awarded the medal. Now that Alonzo Cushing will receive the award, a campaign has started on William's behalf.

In both cases, the shifting rules that guided awards of the Medal of Honor until strict standards were written into law in 1918 prevented a previous award. By dying, Alonzo Cushing became ineligible because the medal was presented only to living recipients at the time. And the Navy awarded the medals only to enlisted sailors in the Civil War, leaving William Cushing out as well, though he did receive a formal resolution of thanks from Congress -- a rare honor that was considered much more prestigious at the time.

"The Medal of Honor was a lesser award at the time of the Civil War," said Jamie Malanowski, author of a just-published biography of William Cushing.

The Medal of Honor was established during the Civil War and 1,520 were eventually awarded for actions in that conflict -- almost half of the 3,492 medals that have been awarded overall, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. …

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