Advertisement

Beyond the call of duty

Great-grandson of recipient donates Medal of Honor to Antietam museum

Great-grandson of recipient donates Medal of Honor to Antietam museum

September 18, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

SHARPSBURG - On Sept. 14, 1862, 1st Lt. George W. Hooker, a Union army commander, was advancing down a mountain road on horseback when he suddenly found himself in a clearing filled with Confederate soldiers.

Hooker's men, the 4th Vermont Infantry, were lagging behind, still out of breath from running over South Mountain after breaking the Confederate line at the base of Crampton's Gap.

Without missing a beat, an injured Hooker announced that there was a large force of Union soldiers behind him, and, for their sake, it would be wise for the Confederates to surrender.

And that is how Hooker managed to single-handedly capture 116 Confederate soldiers and the Confederate flag, a feat that earned him the Medal of Honor 29 years later, according to Lt. Al Preston, assistant park manager of the South Mountain Recreation Area.

Advertisement

That Medal of Honor is now on display at Antietam National Battlefield after Hooker's great-grandson, Henry Willard of Shepherdstown, W.Va., donated it to the battlefield's museum at a ceremony Monday evening.

The Medal of Honor is generally a very personal award that is passed down as a family heirloom and rarely displayed to the public, said John Howard, superintendent of Antietam National Battlefield. Only 3,460 of them have been awarded, and until Willard brought his great-grandfather's to the battlefield museum, Howard had never seen one in person.

Howard said the medal would be in the lobby of the battlefield's visitor center for a few days, then would be moved to the museum, where it would stay except when requested for special events at South Mountain.

"The true value of the gift you have given will be seen in 20 years after hundreds of thousands of people - adults, and most importantly school children - have had a chance to see this revered symbol of heroism and bravery," Howard told Willard at the ceremony.

Willard said he and his sons decided donating the medal would be the best thing to do.

"It's been sitting in a drawer for a long time," Willard said. "It's a valuable thing. It's either that or put it in a safe-deposit box. But by giving it to the battlefield, it will be observed by the public and it will be safe."

No books have been written about Hooker, so Willard's only knowledge of his great-great-grandfather has been passed down to him through oral history. However, Willard said he knows first-hand the bravery the medal represents after his own experience as a seaman in World War II. In 1945, Willard was on the USS Franklin when it was hit by Japanese bombs. He and about 300 other men trapped below deck were rescued by Lt. Donald Arthur Gary, who was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|