Was This ‘Badass Marine’ Denied a Medal of Honor for WWI Valor?


Bullets had been flying and males had been falling on that lethal day at Belleau Wooden in France. The counterattack by French, British and American forces on June 6, 1918, was designed to blunt the German Spring Offensive and defend Paris from seize.

At 3:50 a.m. that morning, Capt. George Hamilton of the U.S. Marine Corps led his firm throughout an open farm discipline to safe the sting of the forested space — solely to look at his troops be killed by deadly German machine gun hearth transferring like a scythe by means of the wheat that grew there.

With males hugging the bottom and dying round him — Hamilton witnessed all 5 of his junior officers killed that morning — the captain acknowledged it was time for motion. What he did subsequent helped set up the legacy of the Corps as one of many hardest combating items on this planet and create his personal legendary standing as one of many bravest Marines in historical past.

Disregarding his personal security, Hamilton stood up within the withering hearth and urged his males ahead. He ran alongside the battleline, shouting orders and encouragement for them to go away the sphere and head into the bushes of Belleau Wooden.

With bayonets mounted, the Marines of forty ninth Firm, 1st Battalion, fifth Regiment (1/5) rose en masse and charged the German positions. Hamilton led the assault into what grew to become a bloody mele. He personally killed 4 Germans in fierce hand-to-hand fight.

Greater than a thousand Marines of the 4th Brigade would lose their lives that day on this first take a look at of fight for the Corps in World Struggle I. Nonetheless, the person acts of bravery by Hamilton and different Marines, together with Sgt. Maj. Daniel “Dan” Daly, would lead the Corps to victory and a spot in historical past.

But regardless of his heroics on that lethal day, Hamilton’s title hardly ever ranks when in comparison with names of Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, and Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler.

In a 2003 article for Leatherneck Journal, historian and retired Marine Lt. Col. Ronald J. Brown wrote, “George Wallis Hamilton would be the most neglected Marine hero of all time. When the First World Struggle resulted in 1918, Hamilton was hailed by his friends as ‘the bravest of the courageous’ and by his senior officers as ‘the best officer in your entire American Expeditionary Forces.’ His feats on the battlefield may have earned him a Medal of Honor on at least three totally different events, however none got here his method.”

A Hero Denied?

Hamilton’s heroics weren’t over, nevertheless. The captain and his males needed to cross one other clearing in a operating cost to take Hill 142, their important goal that day. Firm 49 captured a number of machine gun positions and scores of enemy prisoners.

So shocked had been the Germans — used to a sure French lethargy by this time in — by the American assault that they began referring to the Marines as “Teufel Hunden”: Satan Canine.

Whereas his firm suffered greater than 50 p.c casualties at Belleau Wooden, Hamilton himself miraculously walked away unscathed. Actually, the captain would undergo no wounds in World Struggle I regardless of exposing himself to lethal enemy hearth a number of occasions.

“What saved me from getting hit I don’t know,” Hamilton later wrote about his expertise. “Though I misplaced closely right here, I got here out unscratched.”

Col. Wendell Neville, commander of the fifth Marine Regiment and Medal of Honor recipient himself, cited Hamilton’s “extraordinary heroism… at nice private publicity” on that day in recommending the captain for the Medal of Honor.

His “uncommon high quality of management is clear… [A]fter males had misplaced their leaders, he ran up and down the road beneath extreme hearth, main his males ahead and urging them on…,” wrote Neville.

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Nonetheless, as a substitute of the nation’s highest award for bravery, Hamilton obtained the Navy Cross and Distinguished Service Cross, in addition to two Croix de Guerre from the French authorities. Regardless of suggestions that he went “above and past the decision of responsibility,” the Marine was denied the Medal of Honor — with some saying that U.S. Military Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the America Expeditionary Pressure in World Struggle I, personally denied Hamilton the award.

It’s potential that longstanding prejudice between the Military and the Marines was chargeable for the rejection.

Mark Mortensen, writer of “George W. Hamilton, USMC: America’s Best World Struggle I Hero” in 2011, posits that Pershing’s prejudice in opposition to the Corps performed an element.

On the time, the final didn’t need the Marines to battle in France through the Nice Struggle, however Pershing was ultimately overruled by then Secretary of Struggle, Newton Baker. It was the one time the Corps had been launched by the Navy and put beneath Military command.

“One brigade, the Marine 4th, was allowed to battle — however needed to put on Military uniforms. Some Marines would add the Marine Corps image of the globe and eagle to their helmets so they’d stand out,” wrote Mortensen.

Over the course of the battle, no commissioned Marine Corps officers within the 4th Brigade had been bestowed with the Medal of Honor.

The Struggle Goes On

Regardless of the infighting inside command, Hamilton once more distinguished himself at Blanc Mont on Oct. 4, 1918. Now a serious commanding the 1/5, he famously led the assault that captured the summit, then held on in opposition to vicious counterattacks that included fuel, artillery and hand-to-hand fight.

At one level whereas they wore fuel masks, Hamilton stood shoulder to shoulder together with his males, firing pistols on the enemy as they tried to retake the ridge.

As soon as once more Hamilton was really helpful for the Medal of Honor for actions at Blanc Mont — and once more he was denied.

Regardless of rumors circulating concerning the potential finish of the battle the subsequent day, Hamilton was unceasing in his assaults, main components of the 1/5 and a pair of/5 throughout the Meuse River to seize enemy positions on the night of Nov. 10, 1918.

Underneath heavy German shelling, the Marine officer led one more cost throughout a pontoon bridge — which was later famously depicted in Frederick C. Yohn’s 1920 portray, “The Final Night time of the Struggle.”

“The Final Night time of the Struggle” by Frederick C. Yohn. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

One among his males later wrote, “The main blew a single shortened blast (of his whistle) and stepped ahead … He by no means despatched a fellow the place he wouldn’t go himself.”

The assault was profitable with the Marines capturing three elevated ridges and held them in opposition to enemy resistance. As daybreak broke on Nov. 11, Hamilton obtained phrase that the armistice was to enter impact at 11 a.m. He was the final discipline officer notified of the pending truce.

Postscript of a Marine

With the battle over, Hamilton left the Corps briefly, solely to return so he may pursue his dream of turning into a pilot. In 1921, as a captain within the peacetime Marines, he entered the scholar naval aviator program at Pensacola, Fla. He accomplished his coaching later that 12 months and earned his wings.

On June 25, 1922, the 5,000-man Marine Expeditionary Pressure hiked to Gettysburg in preparation for maneuvers on the nationwide battlefield website. Its mission was to recreate Pickett’s Cost utilizing trendy army gear for President Warren G. Harding on July 1. Hamilton was assigned to supply air help for the bottom troops.

The following day, the Marine Corps pilot, commanding the Second Squadron in a De Havilland DH-4B two-seat biplane, led a formation of 5 plane over Gettysburg. At about 1 p.m., Hamilton signaled he was going to land after which started his descent. His airplane went into an uncontrollable tailspin and crashed, killing him immediately. The second individual within the plane, Sgt. George R. Martin, died at a hospital.

An investigation of the incident supplied inconclusive outcomes. Hypothesis centered on turbulent winds as the reason for the crash, although mechanical failure and pilot error couldn’t be dominated out. The person who fearlessly escaped demise from bullets, artillery and fuel in World Struggle I used to be now lifeless.

Three days after his demise, Hamilton was buried with full honors at Arlington Nationwide Cemetery. His funeral was attended by high army brass and varied dignitaries, together with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt.

Following his interment, one newspaper wrote of Hamilton: “His report is among the best and noblest within the World Struggle. Basic Pershing stated of him, in official citations… [that he] ‘displayed the best kind of braveness and management when his command was beneath decimating hearth from the entrance and each flanks.’”

The article added, “the historical past of the World Struggle can be incomplete with out the title of George Wallis Hamilton.”

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