The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration in the United States Armed Forces. It is given to individuals who have displayed exceptional acts of valor in the face of enemy forces.
It has been awarded 3535 times since its inception in 1861.
Of all the recipients of the Medal of Honor, only twice has it been awarded to a father and a son. In both cases, they are families that you have probably heard of.
Learn more about the father and sons who have been awarded the Medal of Honor and their stories on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
I’m doing this episode for two reasons. First, it is Father’s Day, so I figured a theme of fathers and sons would be a good idea. Second is that when I came up with my original list of ideas for the podcast back in 2020, this idea was near the top of my list.
Before I get into the individual recipients in question, I should give a brief summary of the Medal of Honor.
First, it is called the Medal of Honor, not the Congressional Medal of Honor, as it is often referred to. The confusion comes as it is awarded “in the name of the United States Congress.”
To be awarded the Medal of Honor requires a Presidental nomination and is usually awarded personally by the President to the recipient or next of kin.
Finally, someone does not “win” the Medal of Honor. No one goes out to seek the Medal of Honor. It is said that someone is awarded the Medal of Honor and that one is a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
With that, let’s start with the first of the father and son duos to be awarded the Medal of Honor, Arthur Macarthur Jr. and his son Douglas Macarthur.
While most of you are probably familiar with Douglas Macarthur, his father, Arthur Macarthur Jr., and his grandfather Arthur Macarthur Sr. were both highly accomplished individuals.
His grandfather was the governor of the State of Wisconsin and was later a Federal district judge court judge in Washington DC.
Arthur Macarthur Jr. was born in 1845. After the outbreak of the Civil War, his father attempted to get him an appointment to the United States Military Academy in West Point, but even a direct appeal to Abraham Lincoln couldn’t get him in as all the slots were full.
At the age of 17, in August 1862, he enlisted as a first lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
A year later, on November 25, 1863, he fought at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Tennessee.
During an assault on an entrenched Confederate position on a hilltop, the young Macarthur picked up the regimental flag, which had fallen, and planted it on the top of the hill to rally his unit at a critical moment in the battle. Shouting, “On Wisconsin,” his men rallied around him, capturing the Confederate position.
His phrase, “On Wisconsin” was later used as the title of the fight song for the University of Wisconsin.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor at the age of 18.
The next year he was given a battlefield promotion to the rank of Colonel at the age of just 19.
He was gravely wounded, having been shot in the chest and leg at the Battle of Franklin.
He briefly left the army after the war and then returned having one of the longest army careers in history. He fought in the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, and the Philippine–American War.
In 1900 he was appointed the United States Governor of the Philippines and, in 1906, was elevated to the rank of Lieutenant General, at the time the highest rank in the US Army.
He retired in 1909 after 47 years of active duty service. He was one of the last soldiers in the army who had seen action during the Civil War.
His youngest son was Douglas Macarthur, someone that most of you have probably heard of.
Douglas Macarthur, love him or hate him, is probably worth an episode of his own if not several. He had arguably the greatest career of anyone in US military history.
Douglas followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the military, earning a commission at West Point after having lived at army bases his entire life.
While at West Point, he academically scored 98.14%, which put him at the top of his class, and was the third-highest score ever recorded.
He was sent to the Philippines with an engineering unit, then was appointed aide-de-camp to his father. He later returned to the US, where he served in the White House at the request of President Teddy Roosevelt.
In 1914 he saw action in the Vera Cruz Expedition. While there, he led a daring mission where he seized several railroad engines, was shot four times through his clothes that never hit him, and repelled three attacks, killing six personally.
He was nominated for the Medal of Honor, but he was denied the medal because he had not gotten approval for his mission from his commanding officer, even though his commander approved of what he did and supported him in receiving the medal. The board ultimately said, “to bestow the award recommended might encourage any other staff officer, under similar conditions, to ignore the local commander, possibly interfering with the latter’s plans.”
His military career continued in a spectacular fashion. He became the youngest US general during World War I and was nominated for a second Medal of Honor.
He became the superintendent at West Point, the military commander of the Philippines, and in 1930, the Army Chief of Staff, the head of the entire US Army. When the Purple Heart Award was created in 1932, he was issued the very first one retroactively for injuries he suffered in the First World War.
He went to the Philippines to serve as the Field Marshall of the Filipino Army. and as the primary US military advisor to the country. His job was to create a Filipino Army under the newly semi-independent Filipino government. His chief of staff in the Philippines was an officer by the name of Dwight Eisenhower.
He retired in 1937 at the age of 57, and almost everything that people know about him hadn’t even occurred yet.
In July 1941, the Filipino Army, still technically a US territory, was federalized, and Macarthur was brought back to active duty service as the commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East.
When Pearl Harbor took place, there was a concurrent attack on Manila and the Philippines. The Philippines had been under-equipped and under-manned for years. Within weeks the Japanese took control of the the island of Luzon, forcing American and Filipino defenders to retreat to the Bataan Peninsula, and his headquarters was moved to the fortified island of Corregidor in Manila Bay.
On the direct order of the President, Macarthur and his family escaped the Philippines by submarine. He traveled to Australia, where he began efforts to begin the counterattack against the Japanese.
After he left the Philippines, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. It was perhaps the most unique Medal of Honor ever awarded. There was no particular act of valor which is required. At the age of 62, he was the oldest active recipient of the award in history and, as a four-star general, the highest-ranking soldier to have ever been awarded. He and his father also became the first father/son duo to have been awarded.
Having been twice nominated, Macarthur recognized the unique circumstances of the award by noting, “this award was intended not so much for me personally as it is a recognition of the indomitable courage of the gallant army which it was my honor to command.”
Macarthur went on have one of the longest tenures of anyone in US military history, as well as being one of the most highly decorated and highest-ranking.
The next father-son duo begins with someone you again are probably familiar with and the man who hired Douglas Macarthur to work as his assistant, Teddy Roosevelt.
Teddy Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States. In 1898, he was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. When war broke out with Spain, he resigned his position and established the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, which became known to history as the Rough Riders.
The Rough Riders were a mostly privately funded calvary unit, and were an odd mix of characters, ranging from ivy league schoolboys, Native Americans, cowboys, tradesmen, and former soldiers
They served as a unit under General Joseph Wheeler, who had been a general in the Confederate Army in the Civil War.
Roosevelt’s moment came on July 1, 1898, during the Battle of San Juan Hill. The Rought Riders fought alongside the 10th Calvary Regiment, a unit of black soldiers known as Buffalo Soldiers, on whom I’ve done a previous episode. Their unit leader was a 1st Lieutenant by the name of John “Black Jack” Pershing,
Under constant enemy fire, Roosevelt let his men up a hill known as Kettle Hill. They reached the enemy lines, with Roosevelt personally killing one soldier in their defensive fortification.
His actions were an important part of the overall Battle of San Juan Hill, which became the most important and decisive battle of the war.
Roosevelt was nominated for the Medal of Honor but was blocked by senior army officers over the amount of attention Roosevelt received in the press.
His war heroics were part of the reason he was selected by William McKinley as Vice President in 1900 and subsequently became president just a year later.
The Medal of Honor was awarded to Theodore Roosevelt posthumously in 2001 by President Bill Clinton. He is the only US President to have been awarded the Medal of Honor and the only Medal of Honor recipient to have won a Nobel Prize.
Teddy Roosevelt’s son was Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the President’s eldest son. Technically, his father was actually Theodore Roosevelt Jr. so he was Theodore Roosevelt III, but given his father’s fame, everyone referred to him as junior.
The younger Roosevelt attended Harvard and served in the First World War, where he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After the war, he helped establish the American Legion, and he followed in his father’s footsteps by serving as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He later served as the Governor of Puerto Rico and Governor-General of the Philippines.
In the business world, he was the Chairman of the Board of American Express Company. All the while, he remained active in the Army Reserve.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted again, entering the army at the rank of Colonel. He was soon promoted to brigadier general as the assistant division commander of the 1st Infantry Division.
He saw action in the invasions of North Africa and Sicily and was later assigned to the 4th Infantry Division in England to prepare for the invasion of Normandy.
Roosevelt, a 56-year-old general, actually requested that he be in the first wave that landed on the beaches in Normandy. His request was denied several times, but he eventually made a formal written request that said,
The force and skill with which the first elements hit the beach and proceed may determine the ultimate success of the operation…. With troops engaged for the first time, the behavior pattern of all is apt to be set by those first engagements. [It is] considered that accurate information of the existing situation should be available for each succeeding element as it lands. You should have, when you get to shore, an overall picture in which you can place confidence. I believe I can contribute materially on all of the above by going in with the assault companies. Furthermore, I personally know both officers and men of these advance units and believe that it will steady them to know that I am with them
His request was finally accepted, but his commander, General Raymond “Tubby” Barton, told him he assumed he would never see him alive.
Roosevelt was the highest-ranking officer, the oldest soldier, and the only one who had a son also land in the first wave on D-Day.
He was the first one off of his landing craft on Utah Beach. Walking with his cane, he made an assessment of the landing and realized they had drifted off course by a mile. He then made the decision on the ground to fight from where they were rather than trying to get to their original assigned position. He said, “We’ll start the war from right here!”
He organized all the ground units on the beach to change their objectives, which they did without difficulty. He served as a traffic cop directing traffic in the opening hours of the invasion, proving his assessment correct of having a high-ranking officer on the beach.
He also provided encouragement to the men on the beach because if a general could walk around with a cane under enemy fire, then things couldn’t be that bad.
When the senior staff finally landed later that day, General Roosevelt had a complete assessment of what was happening on the ground, especially considering everything had to be improvised after missing their landing point.
On July 12, 1944, a little over a month after D-Day, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. died of a heart attack. At his funeral, his pallbearers were all generals, which included Omar Bradley and George Patton. Almost every general involved in the invasion said he was arguably the bravest American general to fight in the war.
He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and leadership during the Normandy Invasion.
He was laid to rest at the American Cemetary in Normandy.
All four of these men had very different stories about the actions for which they were awarded the Medal of Honor.
What they have in common is that their bravery and valor were passed along from father to son.
The Executive Producer of Everything Everywhere Daily is Charles Daniel.
The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.
Today’s review comes from listener Joe Proctor from Apple Podcasts in the United States. He writes:
A gift of information
Hi Gary! My father, Scot, and I discovered this podcast nearly a year ago, and since then, you have filled our days with little bursts of information that we would’ve never thought to research ourselves. The topics you come up with are fascinating and always keep us on our toes for what tomorrow’s episode might be about. My favorite episode I’ve listened to this far has been the Origin of Words and Phrases: Volume 1. Personally, I’ve always wondered where the phrase “kill two birds with one stone” came from, so I hope to see a volume 2 soon!
I wanted to write this review in honor of Father’s Day and my father’s birthday (which happen to be on the same day this year), and to thank you for consistently delivering an entertaining educational listen day after day!
Thanks, Joe! Happy birthday to your father, and happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there.
The origin of words and phrases has become a regular feature, so look out for more of them in the future.
Remember, if you leave a review or send me a boostagram, you too can have it read on the show.