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Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day and the Medal of Honor, Farrier Style

by Fran Jurga | 25 May 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

The Medal of Honor of the United States

Everything was in place. The cemetery was a sea of green grass, gray granite markers, tiny flags, and red geraniums. All we needed was a marching band, the Little League, the Girl Scouts, and the Color Guard and we'd be all set.

And here they come, right on cue.

No one comes from a more scenic hometown than I do and there is no day of the year when Shirley Center, Massachusetts looks more idyllic than on Memorial Day.

This weekend, my eye lingered on all the mossy Civil War soldiers' graves (there are quite a few) and I thought about the marker in the center of the Common that honors the ones who didn't come back.

On Memorial Day, anyone who died fighting in any war should be in our thoughts, so I have some interesting names that I'd like to share. These men are listed with the US Congress as recipients of the Medal of Honor (sometimes called the Congresssional Medal of Honor), given, usually, for gallantry in action. But they weren't gun-toting combat soldiers; they were hammer-hoisting horseshoers.

Not airmen or artillerymen or scouts or Marines. They were sent with the cavalry to shoe the horses and they somehow ended up performing acts of courage and distinction. They perhaps performed these acts unarmed, except for their tools. George Meach actually captured the flag for the Union forces at the battle at Winchester; I wonder if he still had his apron on.

For many years, the Medal of Honor was the only medal given. It began after the Civil War; up until then, the Americans didn't want to give medals because it seemed too affected, too European.

Farrier Recipients of the Medal of Honor

Except for George, these men were part of an army mounted on horseback that was sent to clear the western frontier and make it safe for the migration of thousands of settlers.

The Army depended on horses and had to have farriers. Lots of them. Many immigrant farriers used their skill to get through Ellis Island's red tape and enlisted right there in the army as a way to gain citizenship with guaranteed pay; others were quickly trained at Fort Riley, Kansas to fill the need for farriers. Many, like Ernst Veuve, shod horses in the Army without learning to speak English.

I'm sure that, in later wars, there were farriers who were awarded many medals, while serving in combat.

Some other farriers to remember today: Vincent Charley, John Bringes, James Moore, Benjamin Brandon, Benjamin Wells, and William Heath. Those six farriers set out for what was supposed to be a simple week-long maneuver under their general, one George Armstrong Custer. It ended in the valley of Montana's Little Big Horn river on June 25, 1876. I think you know the rest of that story.

Memorial Day began in 1868, when it was called simply "remembrance day". Take a minute today and remember what and who this holiday is really about.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. You only need to ask. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site, www.hoofcare.com, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to blog@hoofcare.com.

4 comments:

Ted Grevelis said...

Interesting take on the holiday, Dr. Fran. Very, very cool stuff for a history buff. Thanks!

Fran Jurga said...

Very funny, Ted, you know I'm not a doctor. Unless it's a doctor of clamshells and seagull droppings.

So glad you enjoyed the history, one more military story to come tonight and then it's back to contemporary hooves!

Minister of Brown Beverages said...

It is 2013, Memorial Day is tomorrow and somehow I found your entry from the wonders of Google. Very interesting field of study and a history lesson I never thought of before. Thank you.

Minister of Brown Beverages said...

It is 2013, Memorial Day is tomorrow and somehow I found your entry from the wonders of Google. Very interesting field of study and a history lesson I never thought of before. Thank you.