The United States has fought twelve major wars and numerous smaller skirmishes in its history. Memorial Day is how we honor the soldiers, sailors, airmen, airwomen, and marines who did not return home. The holiday dates back to the months immediately following the Civil War when a few towns and cities began honoring their dead. In 1868, General John A. Logan—at the time the head of an organization for Union veterans, later a U.S. senator from Illinois, and the man for whom Logan Circle in Washington, DC, is named—called for May 30 to be designated “Decoration Day.” He said the purpose would be for “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” The holiday was renamed Memorial Day after World War I, and its purpose became to honor all Americans who have died fighting the nation’s wars. Since 1971, Memorial Day has been celebrated on the last Monday in May.
In honor of Memorial Day, here are the stories of six Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery, for making the ultimate sacrifice:
Lieutenant, Junior Grade Weedon Edward Osborne was born in Chicago on November 13, 1892, and grew up in an orphanage. He graduated dental school in 1915 and enlisted in the Navy as a dental surgeon in 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I. Osborne was attached to the 6th Marine Regiment at the Battle of Belleau Wood, which is legendary in the annals of the Marine Corps. On June 6, 1918, the Marines were tasked to clear the wood—located outside the town of Château-Thierry, some fifty miles northeast of Paris—of German troops. As the fighting began, Osborne, whose dental equipment had yet to arrive at the front, volunteered to help rescue wounded Marines. He was carrying an injured officer to safety when they were both killed by an artillery shell. Osborne was twenty-five. The Navy destroyer USS Osborne, commissioned in 1920, and the USS Osborne Dental Clinic in North Chicago were named in his honor. Osborne is one of three dental officers to receive the Medal of Honor.
Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan was born to a merchant family in San Francisco, California, on July 26, 1890. Callaghan joined the Navy after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1911, and his naval career spanned three decades and two world wars. He climbed through the ranks on various ships, eventually earning the nickname “Uncle Dan” from his sailors. Callaghan served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s naval aide from 1938 to 1941, when he assumed command of the USS San Francisco. In the Solomon Islands on the night of November 12, 1942, Callaghan led his forces against an attack by the numerically superior Japanese fleet. His “ingenious tactical skill and superb coordination” helped the smaller U.S. force repulse the Japanese offensive. During the fighting, Callaghan was killed by a blast on the bridge of the San Francisco. His former U.S. Naval Academy classmate, Rear Admiral Norman Scott, had been killed earlier in the battle. Despite the loss of two flag officers in what would become known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the United States won a strategic victory, dooming the Japanese effort to keep Allied forces from taking Guadalcanal. Two Navy ships have born the name USS Callaghan.
Private First Class Anthony T. Kahoʻohanohano was born on July 22, 1930, in Wailuku, Maui, then part of the territory of Hawaii. His father and all five of his brothers served in the military. So it was natural that he joined the Hawaii National Guard after high school and then enlisted in the Army in February 1951. Kaho‘ohanohano was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division in Korea. On September 1, 1951, the twenty-one-year-old was leading a machine gun squad near Chup’a-ri, just north of the 38th Parallel, when a large North Korean attack forced U.S. troops to retreat. Though Kaho‘ohanohano was shot in the shoulder, he decided to return to his original position to provide firing cover as his company withdrew. His last words to them were, “I’ve got your back.” Kaho‘ohanohano faced the assault alone with his machine gun and grenades. When he ran out of ammunition, he grabbed a shovel and engaged the attackers in hand-to-hand combat before he was killed. Kaho‘ohanohano’s bravery inspired his company to launch a successful counterattack. They found him with the bodies of thirteen enemy soldiers. His bravery was initially recognized with the Distinguished Service Cross. His family and friends petitioned for Kaho‘ohanohano to be awarded the Medal of Honor. In 2011, sixty years after Kaho‘ohanohano made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, some thirty members of his family gathered in the White House as President Barack Obama recognized his valor with the Medal of Honor.
Lance Corporal Miguel Keith was born in San Antonio, Texas, on June 2, 1951. His parents divorced when he was a young boy. His mother remarried, and Keith moved with his mother and stepfather to Omaha, Nebraska. A former teacher remembered him as “never one to sit on the side lines and let others do it all.” Keith left high school in January 1969 to join first the Marine Corps Reserve and then the regular Marines Corps. He arrived in South Vietnam that November and was assigned as a rifleman with the 1st Combined Action Group, III Marine Amphibious Force. In the early hours of May 8, 1970, Keith was wounded at the start of a surprise assault by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces on the village where his platoon lived. Despite his wounds, the eighteen-year-old ran toward the attackers, killing five. He was further injured by the shrapnel from a grenade blast. Bleeding heavily, Keith faced off against another twenty-five attackers, killing four and forcing the rest to retreat. However, an enemy soldier coming from another direction shot him in the back. He died thirty minutes later. Keith’s bravery helped his fellow Marines and South Vietnamese soldiers hold off the attack. A bronze statue of Keith now stands in a south Omaha park. The USS Miguel Keith was commissioned on May 8, 2021.
Sergeant First Class Alwyn Crendall Cashe was born in Sanford, Florida, on July 13, 1970, and raised in Oviedo, Florida, as the youngest of ten children. He enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in 1988. His service included time in the Gulf War and as a drill sergeant. On the streets of Daliaya, Iraq, on October 17, 2005, Cashe was a platoon leader in the 3rd Infantry Divison when insurgents detonated an improvised explosive device under his patrol’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle and then began firing on it. The Bradley was engulfed in flames, trapping six soldiers and a translator inside. Cashe escaped with minor injuries but found himself in the middle of an ambush and covered in diesel. Nonetheless he dove into the flames multiple times to rescue the trapped men, catching on fire himself. With second- and third-degree burns on 72 percent of his body, Cashe insisted that he be evacuated last. He, as well as several of the men he rescued, later died of their burns. The Army initially recognized Cashe’s valor with a Silver Star. His family, comrades, and other advocates petitioned to upgrade his Silver Star to the Medal of Honor. In 2021, the petition was granted, making Cashe the first Black recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan. An Army Reserve center in Sanford and the post office in Oviedo are named in his honor.
Sergeant First Class Christopher A. Celiz was born in Summerville, South Carolina, on January 12, 1986. He stayed close to home while attending college at The Citadel in Charleston for two years before enlisting in the Army in 2006. In 2018, Celiz was nearing the end of his fifth deployment with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province. Just before dawn on July 12, he was leading a special operations unit to clear an area of enemy forces when his team was attacked and pinned down by heavy fire. Celiz braved intense machine-gun fire to retrieve weapons that enabled his squad to regain the initative and to move to a better defensive position. When a medical helicopter arrived in the middle of the firefight to evacuate a critically wounded soldier, Celiz shielded the medics and the aircrew so they could evacuate him. Celiz was mortally wounded as the helicopter began to depart. He motioned for the helicopter to leave instead of trying to evacuate him. His actions saved the life of the wounded soldier and likely many more on his squad. Celiz left behind his wife, Katherine, and his eight-year-old daughter, Shannon.