Eight South Carolinians were awarded the medal during World War I, including three who made the supreme sacrifice. Six recipients were members of the 118th Infantry, which received more Medals of Honor than any other regiment in the American Expeditionary Forces.
Approved by the United States Congress in 1862, the Medal of Honor is America’s highest award for military valor. Thirty native South Carolinians have been awarded the medal for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity” above that of their comrades in arms. On rare occasions the Medal of Honor has been awarded for individual exploits taking place in peacetime. Among them is Shipfitter First Class George Huber Wheeler of Charleston, who received the award for extraordinary heroism during a fire at Coquimbo, Chile, on January 20, 1909.
The first South Carolinian to receive the award during military action was Ernest A. Garlington of Newberry, who earned the honor for “distinguished gallantry” against the Sioux Indians at the Battle of Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. Early in the following century, naval surgeon Middleton Stuart Elliott of Beaufort and Commander William A. Moffett of Charleston each received the decoration during hostilities against Mexican forces at Vera Cruz in April 1914.
Eight South Carolinians were awarded the medal during World War I, including three who made the supreme sacrifice. Six recipients were members of the 118th Infantry, which received more Medals of Honor than any other regiment in the American Expeditionary Forces. Among them was Providence native Corporal James D. Heriot of the Thirtieth Division. Heriot made a lone thirty-yard dash against a German machine gun nest and forced the team to surrender, only to fall himself later that day. In 1991 the sisters of Corporal Freddie Stowers of Anderson County were presented a posthumous award for his extraordinary courage while attempting to destroy a machine gun that had pinned down his men during World War I. Stowers was the only African American from the war awarded the medal.
While serving in Nicaragua between the world wars, Marine Corporal Donald L. Truesdale of Lugoff saved the lives of the members of his patrol by shielding them from the shock of an errant grenade on April 24, 1932. During World War II five South Carolinians were awarded the medal for courage and self-sacrifice. Marine Sergeant Robert A. Owens of Greenville made a charge against a well-placed Japanese gun that was wreaking havoc on American landing operations in the Solomon Islands on November 1, 1943. His sacrifice silenced the gun and paved the way for a successful invasion.
During fighting in the Korean War, three of the four South Carolina recipients were presented the honor posthumously. The fourth, Marine Staff Sergeant Robert Sidney Kennemore of Greenville, miraculously survived the blast of a grenade on which he had thrown himself to protect his platoon. Seven native South Carolinians were awarded the Medal of Honor during American involvement in Vietnam. The last Medal of Honor action of the Vietnam War occurred on Halloween night 1972, when Greenville native Petty Officer First Class Michael Edwin Thornton saved the life of his team leader Lieutenant Thomas Norris. Thornton’s is the rare case of one Medal of Honor recipient receiving the award for saving the life of another recipient.