A Veterans Day Salute
In a solemn service in Memorial Church attended by President Drew Faust and General George W. Casey Jr., Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, the University paid tribute on November 11 to its alumni veterans living and dead (approximately 1,200 alumni have given their lives in war); to its students currently serving or training to serve in the armed forces (close to 150 veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are currently enrolled); and in particular to the 16 Harvard men who earned the nation’s highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
During the service, a plaque commemorating the medal’s recipients, newly installed in the sanctuary near the altar, was unveiled, dedicated, and presented to the University by the Harvard Veterans Alumni Organization (HVAO; www.harvardveterans.org). Relatives of some of the recipients were among those filling the church, including David C. Skinner ’51, M.B.A. ’56, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps as did his twin, Sherrod E. Skinner Jr. ’51—awarded the decoration posthumously after throwing himself on a North Korean grenade to save his men.
Many attending the hour-long ceremony entered the church—itself dedicated on Veterans Day in 1932—through the Memorial Room, where the names of the Harvard dead of World War I are inscribed. The church seeks “to keep their memories green and continue our witness for peace,” the Reverend Peter J. Gomes told his audience, noting also the sanctuary’s existing memorials to the dead of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam: fit company for the new plaque honoring those alumni who achieved “the signal honor of the Medal of Honor.”
General Casey, who asked all veterans in the audience to stand to be recognized, echoed Gomes in a very personal way in his own remarks. “It’s a special honor for me to be speaking here on Veterans Day in this chapel,” he explained, “as my Dad’s name is on one of those plaques….He was a part of Harvard’s class of 1945.” Casey spoke broadly of the sacrifices made through the years by the men and women of the country’s armed forces, and specifically of the alumni Medal of Honor recipients and two Massachusetts recipients, Captain Thomas J. Hudner Jr., an invited guest, and Sergeant First Class Jared C. Monti, whose gravesite he would visit later that day. “Our veterans inspire us to not take for granted the values, the ideals, and freedoms that we have in this great country. They remind us that those freedoms are not free,” he said. What the Medal of Honor recipients “all have in common,” he added, “is selflessness—selflessness to others and selflessness to country.”
President Faust, introduced by HVAO president Thomas P. Reardon ’68 as “the proud and loving daughter of a veteran,” brought the general’s message home. “We at Harvard are proud to have been a part of the lives of these remarkable Americans, proud to recognize and claim them as our own,” she said.
And we are very grateful to those who have undertaken the historical investigation that led up to this day, that has made these names known to us all at last. As current and future students enter Harvard’s gates “to grow in wisdom,” let us work to ensure that it be not just the wisdom of the mind, but also the wisdom of the heart—the courage, the character, and that profound sense of obligation, service, and citizenship so powerfully represented by the men we honor today.
As the service closed, the Memorial Church bell, inscribed “In memory of voices that are hushed,” tolled 11 times.
news of the plaque’s imminent dedication (see “Above and Beyond,” in this magazine, and “Harvard’s Medals of Honor,” by William McGurn, in the Wall Street Journal) alerted relatives of six more alumni who had earned the medal to contact HVAO. That enabled the ceremony’s sponsors to distribute information on all 16 men at the service, and have all their names read aloud. During the service, HVAO president Reardon committed his group to adding to the plaque and maintaining it in perpetuity, promising to add the six new names to the memorial by Veterans Day 2010.
The University’s newly rediscovered Medal of Honor recipients are:
- Charles E. Phelps, Law School 1852-1853, who rallied and led Union troops to within a few feet of enemy barricades at Spotsylvania before being severely wounded and captured.
- Horace Porter, Lawrence Scientific School 1854-1855, LL.D. 1910, who rallied enough fleeing soldiers to cover the retreat of Union wagon trains and batteries at the Battle of Chickamauga.
- Henry Shippen Huidekoper, A.B. 1862, A.M. ’72, who continued to command his regiment at Gettysburg despite being wounded so badly that his right arm was amputated after the battle.
- Claud A. Jones, Graduate School of Applied Science 1912-1913, a senior engineering officer aboard the USS Memphis during a hurricane in 1916, who remained at his post “as long as the engines would turn over”; when the boilers exploded, he rushed into the scalding steam of the “fire rooms” with two shipmates and rescued the men trapped there.
- Pierpont M. Hamilton ’20, A.M. ’46, who, during the Allied invasion of North Africa, volunteered for a mission to persuade the local Vichy French garrison to surrender. Despite hostile fire that killed his superior officer, Hamilton—though taken prisoner—successfully completed the mission. (Harvard awarded him an honorary degree after the war, alongside Generals Eisenhower, Arnold, and Vandegrift and Fleet Admiral Nimitz.)
- Robert C. Murray, of the Harvard Business School class of 1970, who threw himself on an enemy grenade in Hiep Duc, Vietnam, to save the lives of his men.
Biographical sketches and images of all 16 alumni recipients of the Medal of Honor appear at http://www.advocatesforrotc.org/harvard/honor.html.