2 new horses serving with funeral platoon named for Medal of Honor recipients
Stars and Stripes September 19, 2023
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Two new horses were dedicated Tuesday to the funeral honors platoon for the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery and bestowed with the names of two soldiers who earned the Medal of Honor during World War II.
Bloch and McCall, both sleek, black-haired Percheron horses, stood mostly at attention during a dedication ceremony held in their honor near the stables at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. Afterward in the stables, they accepted carrots from the dozens of attendees from the local south Texas community.
The 3-year-old brothers are now part of a 12-horse platoon that conducts roughly one funeral service a week for veterans ranked sergeant major or higher, who were killed in action, were prisoners of war or Medal of Honor recipients, said Sgt. 1st Class John Ford, the senior noncommissioned officer for the Military Funeral Honors-Caisson Platoon.
Purchased from Kentucky’s Amish region where Bloch and McCall pulled a carriage, the horses spent the past six months learning to be part of the four-horse team that pulls a 1908-model artillery caisson that carries the casket of the deceased.
“During pauses in the fighting, the caissons were often the only available carriages and were used to remove the dead and the wounded from the field. This led to the use of caissons as an honor in military funerals,” Ford said during the dedication ceremony.
The Army established the Texas-based caisson platoon shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and it is one of two operating within the Army. The second is located at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Since arriving, McCall has shown himself to be the friendlier of the horses, though he’s more stubborn under the saddle, said Sgt. Jacob Sanlin, a platoon member who rode McCall during the ceremony.
“Bloch is like a 10-year-old horse in a 3-year-old’s body. He can tune out everything and focus,” Sanlin said. “He’s more easy-going and less onery.”
Each of the horses in the platoon are named to honor soldiers who served as the sergeant major of the Army or other notable veterans. Bloch and McCall are named in honor of Col. Orville Bloch and Master Sgt. Thomas McCall, who were awarded Medals of Honor for their actions in Italy during World War II.
Bloch earned the Medal of Honor as a first lieutenant in the 85th Infantry Division for his actions near Firenzuola, Italy, in September 1944. His heroics allowed troops to advance beyond enemy machine-gun nests. Bloch singlehandedly captured 19 prisoners, wounding six of them and eliminating five enemy machine-gun nests. He also served in the Korean War and retired in 1970. He died 13 years later.
McCall, then a staff sergeant, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor near San Angelo, Italy, in January 1944 while assigned to the 36th Infantry Division. During a machine gun battle, McCall guided his own machine-gun section through difficult combat to advance on the enemy. Eventually, McCall was the only remaining member of his unit. He rendered first aid to the wounded and then ran toward the enemy, firing his weapon.
McCall went on to serve in the Korean War. In 1965, while assigned to Washington, D.C., McCall drowned at age 49 while rescuing his 8-year-old son. The boy survived.
The horses named in their honor can serve at Fort Sam Houston for 10 years before they are transferred to another federal agency, Ford said. Both were purchased through a donation from the Uniformed Veterinary Medical Association, a nonprofit that celebrates the accomplishments of veterinarians and veterinary personnel serving in the Army Veterinary Corps, Air Force, and Public Health Service.