Most everyone over the age of forty has heard the name
“Custer”. The kids, well that's a different story ever since
our schools have stopped teaching history in favor of
“political correct revisionist history”. The name “Custer”
is remembered for
General George Armstrong Custer who is most often
thought of as having his whole army wiped out at the Battle
of the Little Bighorn by the Lakota and Cheyenne Indians.
The entire battle was unnecessary and in fact became a
complete fiasco, in which Custer and his entire unit was
killed, but it plays into the hands of those who believe the
stole America from the Indians.
Custer is one of the most misunderstood characters to have
worn a military uniform for the United States. He didn't
consider the Native Americans to be “bloodthirsty,
cruel, and uncivilized“, rather going back to his days
at West Point, he had written in admiration of Native
Americans. In 1876, just before his death, he had put his
Army career in serious jeopardy for testifying before
Congress of corruption ...including that by the Secretary of
War and President Grant's brother, in the treatment and
corruption in dealing with the Indians.
you study and come to believe, the focus on George A. Custer
and his career in the military is open to interpretation. It
is also mis-focused as the real hero in the family was
Thomas W. Custer (photo right), recipient of two
Congressional Medals of Honor.
Thomas Custer was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the
Army at age 18, and rose quickly to the rank of Lt. Colonel
in two short years. Thomas was the first man to be awarded
two Medals of Honor, both for capturing Confederate
The capture of a
regimental battle flag may sound insignificant but such
battle flags “denoted individual persons, or units, on the
field of battle. The flag symbolized the honor of the
regiment...In combat, with the field full of noise and smoke,
the soldiers watched their regimental flag and if it
advanced or retreated they followed. The names of the
battles that the regiment participated in were sometimes
stitched onto the flag. The loss of a regimental flag was a
disgrace to the command. The citations read as follows:
Citation 1: “Capture of flag on 10 May 1863″...hardly worth
the effort to write such a citation. Citation 2: “2d Lt.
Custer leaped his horse over the enemy's works and captured
2 stands of colors, having his horse shot from under him and
receiving a severe wound”.
For his actions he was awarded the Medal of Honor twice
for similar but separate acts of bravery and the citations
accompanying the honor do not do his deeds justice, but to
understand the courage required to cross into enemy fire to
rest a regimental battle flag from an enemy combatant, all
you need to know is in his second MOH feat, his was
severally wounded in the face and was so determined to
continue fighting that his division commander had him put
under arrest just to get him to a field hospital.
For years the Congressional Medal of Honor was the only
real way for the government to recognize exemplary bravery.
There were no other medals and perhaps one day history will
look back on some early recipients and conclude that the
recognition really didn't rise to the level of “exemplary
bravery” and deserve the Medal of Honor. It is what it is,
and certainly the acts that received the medal were above
and beyond the normal call of duty and at risk to the life
of the recipient.
In peacetime we have seen the Medal of Honor
awarded for acts that today would most probably warrant
a recognition along the lines of a Bronze Star not the
nation's highest award. This is not to belittle the act
of the recipient, but to weigh it in context to action
facing an enemy combatant. This is probably why the
person receiving the medal faded quickly into history
and most difficult to document the actions leading to
The double peacetime awards to Norwegian born
Ludwig Andreas Olsen who served under the name Louis
Williams were for saving the lives of men who had gone
overboard and were at risk of drowning. Anyone who can swim
will know that a drowning man can easily overpower a rescuer
so both end up drowning. Olsen was serving as Captain of the
Hold aboard the USS Lackawanna, in Honolulu, Territory of
Hawaii. Seaman Thomas Moran fell overboard and Williams went
to the rescue.
His citation reads, “For jumping overboard from the
U.S.S Lackawanna, 16 March 1883, at Honolulu, T.H., and
rescuing from drowning Thomas Moran, landsman”.
Olsen's second award was for saving another seaman who
went overboard, this time serving aboard the USS Lackawanna,
at Callao Peru. The scenes must have been dejevous for
Olsen, except this time the overboard seaman was William
Cruise. The second citation reads, “Serving on board the
U.S.S. Lackawanna, Williams rescued from drowning William
Cruise, who had fallen overboard at Callao Peru, 13 June
1884″. Both medals were presented at the same time on
October 18, 1884. That both award were presented at the same
time is worthy of note. It was the first time two awards
were made the same time to the same recipient.
In the long line of Medal of Honor recipients numbering
more than 3400 over the course of American History, it's
been the Irish at the top of the “nationality list” with
235 recipients. That probably tells you more about the
fighting spirit of those from Ireland than some genetic
superiority. Some of my Irish friends might even suggest
it's the make-up of the Irish heritage...”They are utterly
impractical, never predictable, sometimes irascible, quite
inexplicably Irish. They are a strange blend of shyness,
pride and conceit, and stubbornly refuse to bow in defeat.”
(author unknown). Only an Irishman can tell a man to go to
hell in a way that he looks forward to making the trip.
Patrick Mullen is another in the list of Irish heroes.
Mullen was born May 6, 1844 in Baltimore, Maryland and
joined the United States Navy. He became a
Boatswain's Mate and as such, would normally follow a
path of advancement to Chief Warrant Officer and Limited
Duty Officer. Boatswain's Mates often stand watch on ship's
bridges, passing information relating to routine and special
activities to the crew with the distinctive boatswain's call
or boatswain's pipe which because its shrill tune could be
heard above most of the activity on board. It is used to
signal various happenings such as a call to attention and
the boarding of officials.
Not to be confused with “The world's oldest
profession”, the Boatswain's Mate is said to be one of
the three oldest professions in the U.S Navy, along with
Quartermasters (responsible for safe navigation,
shiphandling, and chart/record maintenance), and
Masters-at-Arms (responsible for maintaining order and
enforcing regulations among a ship's crew or the
complement of a shore installation). Nowhere in any
research did I find where the title of “Hero” was part
of the job.
While stationed aboard the USS Wyandank he received the
Medal of Honor for his actions during a boat expedition up
Mattox Creek in 1865. His Citation reads, “Served as
boatswain's mate on board the U.S.S. Wyandank during a boat
expedition up Mattox Creek, 17 March 1865. Rendering gallant
assistance to his commanding officer, Mullen, lying on his
back, loaded the howitzer and then fired so carefully as to
kill and wound many rebels, causing their retreat.
His second citation came in peacetime and read as
follows, “Served as boatswain's mate on board the U.S.S.
Don, 1 May 1865. Engaged in picking-up the crew of picket
launch No. 6, which had swamped. Mullen, seeing an officer
who was at that time no longer able to keep up and was below
the surface of the water, jumped overboard and brought the
officer to the boat, thereby rescuing him from drowning,
which brave action entitled him to wear a bar on the medal
he had already received at Mattox Creek, 17 March 1865″.
Perhaps the valor of the Irish is best portrayed in a
quote by soccer star, George Best...”I spent 90% of my money
on women and drink. The rest I wasted!” The Irish...Gotta'
By Ed Mattson
Reprinted from Veterans Today
About Author: Following his service in the Marine Corps Ed Mattson built a diverse career in business in both sales and marketing and management. He is a published author and medical research specialist. He is currently Development Director of the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs-State Partnership Program, Fundraising Coordinator for the Warrior2Citizen Project, and Managing Partner of Center-Point Consultants in North Carolina. Mr. Mattson is a noted speaker and has addressed more than 3000 audiences in 42 states and 5 foreign countries. He has been awarded the Order of the Sword by American Cancer Society, is a Rotarian Paul Harris Fellow and appeared on more than 15 radio and television talk-shows.
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