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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Rep. Victor Wickersham congratulates Ernest Childers
(2012.201.B1368.0555, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).


Created by act of Congress in 1861 for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, and in 1862 for the U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor is the highest military award for bravery in the United States. It is traditionally awarded only to members of the armed forces for valor and/or self-sacrifice above and beyond the call of duty while in combat, and, because it is presented in the name of Congress, it is often mistakenly called the Congressional Medal of Honor. From 1863 through January 2017, 3,315 Americans from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have received the medal, including thirty-four with ties to Oklahoma.

Those thirty-four represent the army (26), the army air forces (2), the navy (2), and the Marine Corps (4), and served in the China/Boxer Rebellion (1), the Philippine War (1), World War I (3), World War II (20), and both the Korean (2) and Vietnam (6) wars. Twenty-four recipients were born in Oklahoma (seven others enlisted there, and one enlisted in Ohio), and more than half (17) posthumously were awarded the Medal of Honor. Interestingly, almost all of the recipients hail from smaller Oklahoma towns such as Pawnee. Pawnee and Oklahoma City are the only Oklahoma communities to produce two Medal of Honor recipients (Maj. Kenneth Bailey and Comdr. Ernest Edwin Evans, Pawnee; and S.Sgt. Ruben Rivers and PFC Manuel Perez, Jr., Oklahoma City).

Native-born Oklahomans awarded the Medal of Honor include SFC Tony K. Burris of Blanchard, who died on Heartbreak Ridge in 1951 after killing twenty enemy soldiers and destroying enemy emplacements while severely wounded; T.Sgt. Charles F. Carey, Jr., of Canadian, who lost his life battling more than two hundred enemy soldiers in France in January 1945; Comdr. Ernest Evans of Pawnee, the captain of the USS Johnston, who died while charging the Japanese fleet in order to cover the withdrawal of nearby escort carriers during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944; Maj. Kenneth D. Bailey, also of Pawnee, who commanded the First Marine Raider Battalion and was killed during the defense of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in September 1942; Lt. Richard Miles McCool, Jr., of Tishomingo, who commanded a transport ship off Okinawa and directed rescue efforts and defensive operations against several waves of kamikaze attacks in spite of severe burns in 1945; S.Sgt. Ruben Rivers of Oklahoma City, who fought for three days while wounded in France and died covering the withdrawal of his tank platoon in 1944; and Lt. Col. Leon R. Vance, Jr., of Enid, who stayed with his stricken bomber in spite of grievous wounds and died after ditching it in the English Channel so that a crewman he believed still on board the plane might escape, in 1944 (Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, is named in his honor).

The other Medal of Honor recipients born in Oklahoma are: SFC Bennie G. Adkins of Waurika; 2d Lt. Ernest Childers of Broken Arrow; S.Sgt. John R. Crews of Golden; 1st Lt. Donald J. Gott of Arnett; 1st Lt. Frederick F. Henry of Vian; Pvt. Harold G. Kiner of Aline; 1st Lt. Jack C. Montgomery of Long; S.Sgt. Melvin Morris of Okmulgee; PFC Manuel Perez, Jr., of Oklahoma City; S.Sgt. Larry S. Pierce of Wewoka; Capt. Riley L. Pitts of Fallis; M.Sgt. Earl D. Plumlee of Clinton; PFC John N. Reese, Jr., of Muskogee; PFC Henry Schauer of Clinton; PFC William R. Shockley of Bokoshe; SP4 Donald P. Sloat of Coweta; Maj. John Lucian Smith of Lexington; and PFC Herman C. Wallace of Marlow.

Among the most famous Medal of Honor recipients who were born elsewhere but enlisted in Oklahoma are 1st Lt. George Price Hays, who enlisted in Okarche and had seven horses shot from under him while serving as a runner in France during July 1918; SFC Troy A. McGill, who enlisted in Ada and killed more than 105 enemy soldiers before succumbing to his wounds during a battle in the Los Negros Islands in 1944; and Capt. Jack L. Treadwell, who enlisted in Snyder and captured six pillboxes and more than eighteen soldiers during fighting in Germany in 1945.

The remaining men who received the Medal of Honor after enlisting in Oklahoma (and one in Ohio) are Pvt. Oscar J. Upham, a resident of Guthrie, O.T., who enlisted in Ohio, erected barricades under heavy fire during the 1900 "Boxer Rebellion" in Peking, China, and is represented in the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame; Pvt. Joseph L. Epps, who enlisted in Indian Territory and fought in the Philippine Insurrection of 1899–1902; Cpl. Samuel M. Sampler, who enlisted in Altus and fought in France during World War I; PFC Albert Earnest Schwab, who enlisted in Tulsa and was killed on Okinawa during World War II after destroying several machine gun positions with a flamethrower; and Cpl. Harold L. Turner, who enlisted in Seminole and captured fifty German soldiers during World War I. In 2022 one of two Silver Stars previously awarded to Spc. 5 Dwight Birdwell, of Bell, was elevated to Medal of Honor for meritorious action in Viet Nam in defense of Tan Son Nhut Air Base during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Lance Janda


Congressional Medal of Honor Society, at www.cmoh.org., accessed on 26 March 2019.

"Medal of Honor Winners," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

R. J. Proft, ed., United States of America's Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients and Their Official Citations (3d ed.; Columbia Heights, Minn.: Highland House II, 2001).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Lance Janda, “Medal of Honor Recipients,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=ME025.

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