Nonprofit in dispute over Marine’s Medal of Honor agrees in principle to hometown display
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 20, 2019
A Pennsylvania nonprofit dedicated to educating Americans about citizenship and community service has agreed — in principle — to send a Marine hero’s Medal of Honor back to his hometown for display following a protracted fight.
The family of Marine Maj. Henry Courtney Jr. has been seeking the return of his medal from the Valley Forge-based Freedoms Foundation since around 2015, family members previously told Stars and Stripes.
They accused the foundation of breaching the agreement over how the medal would be used and requested it be sent instead to the St. Louis County Historical Society’s Veterans Memorial Hall in Duluth, Minn., which has a substantial Courtney display.
At first, the Freedoms Foundation, which was founded in 1949 by a group that included future President Dwight Eisenhower, refused. Courtney’s family members then took their fight public.
After several articles in the press, including a Stars and Stripes report Jan. 3, and an ensuing campaign that included phone calls and social media posts, the foundation’s board relented. The board decided at its meeting Tuesday to loan Courtney’s medal to the historical society in Duluth.
“The Board of Directors of Freedoms Foundation has agreed in principle to loan the Medal of Honor awarded to Marine Maj. Henry A. Courtney Jr. to the St. Louis County Historical Society for its Veterans Memorial Hall in Courtney’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota,” the foundation wrote in a statement on its website. “The Foundation will reach out to the Historical Society to work through the details.”
Further details were unavailable; a foundation spokesman could not be reached for comment after business hours Tuesday.
However, the move pleased Courtney’s descendants.
“I feel very grateful and relieved,” Courtney’s nephew Court Storey, who was named for the Medal of Honor recipient, wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes after the vote.
“I take my hat off to the FF for agreeing to re-consider all the facts and making what I feel was the right decision to allow the Courtney MOH to go home to Duluth where Henry was born, raised, and is buried and where his story is told,” he said. “The FF stood tall today!”
The foundation’s board includes Medal of Honor recipient Army Col. Walter Marm Jr., who received the award for actions taken during the Vietnam War, and Doug Sheehan, the nephew of Doug Munro, the Coast Guard’s only medal recipient.
Courtney was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously after leading a daring assault on Okinawa’s Sugar Loaf Hill on the night of May 14, 1945, famously telling his Marines, “I’m going up Sugar Loaf Hill. Who’s going with me?” Every man in his charge rose and followed.
An attorney before the war and a Marine reservist, he was killed by Japanese mortar fire after a vicious close-quarters fight, but not before his Marines had inflicted heavy casualties, which ultimately led to taking the strategic position days later.
His medal was donated to the foundation by his sister Elizabeth Bean in 1980, under the condition that Courtney’s story be told in a meaningful way, Storey said.
The family later discovered that the foundation had no display honoring Courtney, his story was not being discussed and his medal was kept locked away in a vault with several others.
Freedoms Foundation President and CEO David Harmer previously told Stars and Stripes that the board had decided at least twice to retain the medal to honor the donor’s intent.