Descendants of the 15 Delawareans who have been awarded the nation's highest military honor joined Tuesday with veterans, local students and others to remember those heroes during the 14th annual Medal of Honor Ceremony at VFW Post #3792 near Middletown.
Close to 900 Delaware soldiers saw action in the Battle of Gettysburg, which was by far the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.
Yet only two received the nation’s highest military honor for their bravery during that three-day conflict in Pennsylvania.
Cpl. Bernard McCarren, an Irishman who joined the 1st Delaware Infantry in Wilmington, and Private John Maberry, who joined the same regiment near Smyrna, were both awarded the Medal of Honor on Dec. 1 1864, nearly five months after each captured Confederate battle flags during Pickett’s Charge.
It’s not known whether McCarren and Maberry ever saw each other after that day.
But Tuesday, the descendants of both men sat next to each at VFW Post #3792 near Middletown, where they and the families of 13 other Delaware Medal of Honor recipients paid homage to their ancestors’ bravery.
“When I walked in, the hair stood up on the back of my neck,” Maberry’s great-great-great grandson Ronald Short Sr. of Dover said after the 14th annual Medal of Honor Ceremony. “It’s such an honor to be related to a real Civil War hero and it’s just wonderful to be a part of something like this where they recognize that bravery and sacrifice.”
Wilmington residents Nancy Hoag and her sister Barbara Tigani, the great-great-great nieces of Bernard McCarren, said they were just as pleased to be among the 10 Medal of Honor descendants at this year’s event.
“It’s great to be a part of something like this because these men should be remembered for the bravery they showed on the battlefield,” Hoag said. “We grew up learning about Bernard McCarren from our aunt, who kept his sword in her closet, so it’s nice to see that his memory is being kept alive by others as well.”
The annual Medal of Honor ceremonies were started in 2001 by Paul Cathell Jr., the founder and president of the Delaware Medal of Honor Historical Association, and his wife Cassie. For the past four years, the event has been held at VFW Post #3792, which is also known as the Sgt. William Lloyd Nelson Memorial Post in honor of another Medal of Honor recipient.
This year’s event included speeches by several veterans and other dignitaries, including Major Gen. Francis D. Vavala, adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard.
“I applaud all of you present today for your willingness … passion and devotion to ensure that we never forget the incomparable service of those who, through their selflessness and courage, earned the Medal of Honor,” Vavala said. “God bless you patriotic Americans for your perseverance and commitment to members of our military.”
William “Russ” Hall, state surgeon for the VFW Department of Delaware and commander of VFW Post #8801 in Clayton, echoed those sentiments by offering a quote often attributed to George Washington.
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated,” he said. “We must always remember to honor those who came before us … and we must all speak out in order to honor and protect those who have served, are serving and will serve in the future.”
Last week, President Barrack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 Army veterans, many of whom were initially passed over because they were Hispanic, Jewish and black.
The honor was bestowed to them only after the Pentagon conducted a review of possible discrimination used in previous Medal of Honor decisions.
On Tuesday, New Jersey-resident James Thompson took the opportunity to discuss his own experiences with discrimination and prejudice as a member of the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment during the Korean War.
“Today, what I’m trying to give you is not black history; it’s American history,” said Thompson, who today serves as commander of the Northeast Chapter of Buffalo Soldiers. “It happened. We know it happened … And we have to let the young generation know what’s going on … because our young generation today thinks this is the way it’s supposed to be.”