The White House announced on Tuesday that President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to three soldiers, one of whom epitomizes the old adage “better late than never.” In addition to two veterans of the Vietnam War, one soldier will receive the honor 151 years after he died while serving in the Civil War.
Then-22-year-old Alonzo H. Cushing, a First Lieutenant fighting for the Union, was killed in battle on July 3, 1863. If that date sticks out to you somehow, it’s because that was the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Cushing was shot three times while commanding the 2nd Corps for the Army of the Potomac’s Battery A, which had taken a “severe pounding” by Confederate artillery as the battle wore on. According to Stars and Stripes, he eventually wound up manning the battery’s last working piece of field artillery as the Confederate infantry assault known as Pickett’s Charge drew closer.
A newspaper in Cushing’s home state of Wisconsin later wrote in 1911 that he “kept on firing” after being shot and was ultimately fatally shot in the mouth. Cushing and the other men are also described as having fought with “never ceasing spirit” despite the “constant rain of shot and shell.”
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins, who was deployed to Vietnam three times during the war, will also receive the Medal of Honor for “displaying extraordinary bravery” in March 1966 during his second deployment. Adkins reportedly ran through the debris of exploding mortar rounds to help rescue fellow soldiers, which earned him a Distinguished Service Cross. He had been recommended for the Medal of Honor previously and will travel to Washington from Alabama to be presented with the award on Sept. 15.
Also selected to receive the medal is Army Spc. 4 Donald P. Sloat, a machine gunner killed in Vietnam in 1970. When a fellow soldier accidentally triggered a grenade booby trap, Sloat went to throw the grenade away from them and two other soldiers but did not have enough time to do so and shielded them from the explosion with his body instead. Sloat’s brother, William Sloat, will be accepting the Medal of Honor on his behalf.
Adkins and Sloat were selected to receive the designation after a review commissioned by Congress in 2002. The review covered Jewish and and Hispanic veterans to make sure none had been denied the medal due to race or ethnicity, but also determined that other soldiers such as Adkins and Sloat were worthy of receiving it as well.
The Medal of Honor is the American military’s highest honor that recognizes soldiers who distinguish themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity” in combat. It was initially created in 1861 to recognize naval service and in 1863 Congress approved making the Medal of Honor as we know it today a permanent decoration.