The Medal of Honor, sometimes referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor since it is awarded by Congress, is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States. It signifies uncommon valor above and beyond the call of duty in defense of our nation – often at the risk of life and limb. Since March, 1863, when the first Medal of Honor was presented, 254 have been received by native-born Irishmen – more than twice the number given to any other foreign-born nationality.
When America decided to establish a memorial to those whose extraordinary valor defended her in times of need, a 52-acre grove was set aside by the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge. An area was allocated to each state, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico in which they might erect a memorial to the Medal of Honor recipients from their jurisdiction. Nationwide fund-raising activities ensured that, within a short time, the Medal of Honor Grove became a suitable tribute with 52 separate memorial areas dedicated to those whose ultimate heroism insured our continued freedom. Thousands of visitors annually visit this dignified memorial grove to remember those honored there.
In 1975, Sister Marie Veronica, archivist and curator of the grove, noted that 150 recipients of the Medal of Honor were missing from the individual State Memorials. These were individuals who were not affiliated with any State due to lost records, incomplete files, or the fact that they had enlisted before establishing any traceable residence – they were signed up right off the boat. It was not surprising that the major portion were Irish.
Sister Veronica notified several veterans organizations about the situation with no success. Finally, she contacted the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who responded wholeheartedly. They began a nation-wide fund-raising campaign to erect a memorial to the memory of, not only the Irish, but all 150 unsung heroes. On August 24 1985, years of work came to an emotional conclusion as a seven-foot Obelisk of Honor, fashioned from Wicklow granite and donated by then Irish Prime Minister, the late Charles Haughey, was unveiled in a beautiful area near the park entrance. The area was called then, and will be known forever, as The Irish Grove. On the obelisk are the names of all the previously missing Medal of Honor recipients with their country of origin. There are 65 from Ireland, 36 from Germany, 12 from England, 11 from Canada, and 5 or less from Australia, Denmark, France, West Indies, Switzerland, Sweden, Wales, Scotland, Phillipines, and Norway.
With the colors paraded by the AOH Tara Pipe Band of Massapequa, New York; the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard; and the 28th Massachusetts Irish Brigade, spectators in the applauding crowd wept openly as the 19th Army Band played Garryowen and taps. It was a proud moment for the Irish in the history of a land to which their forefathers have given so much, and an even prouder day for the Ancient Order of Hibernians who had kept faith with their heritage.