Some continue push for Civil War soldier to get Medal of Honor
By BRANDIE KESSLER | York (Pa.) Daily Record | Published: September 14, 2013
YORK, Pa. — Gen. George Pickett's Division advanced on Cemetery Ridge on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, and the booming guns in Battery A of the 4th U.S. Artillery started to go silent as the men assigned to them were killed.
Lt. Alonzo Cushing, a 22-year-old from Wisconsin who had graduated from West Point two years earlier, watched his men die around him.
He was wounded — some say he was leaning on 1st Sgt. Frederick Fuger to stand — but Cushing refused to turn away.
When men in Cushing's unit turned to run, he put a gun to one man's head and promised to kill the next man who ran, according to one account.
Cushing fought until his last breath. Some say he ran forward to pull the artillery lanyard on one of the guns and managed to fire it before he was shot dead.
Some say Cushing's actions are deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
However, more than 150 years after Cushing died on the Gettysburg battlefield, he has yet to be awarded the medal.
"He certainly deserved the medal for his action on July 3 (1863)," said John Heiser, Gettysburg historian with the National Park Service. "Cushing was willing to fight his guns all the way to the last one."
No one nominated Cushing for the medal in 1863, or in the decades that followed.
Accounts of Cushing's heroism remain, Heiser said, and Cushing supporters of today haven't lost hope that a medal will be awarded.
Dave Krueger, of Delafield, Wis., is the Mayor of Delafield's representative on the Alonzo Cushing Medal of Honor Committee. Delafield is Cushing's hometown. Krueger learned about Cushing when he moved to Delafield from Milwaukee, Wis., a few years ago.
"I saw Cushing everywhere," Krueger said of parks and schools and other public places named for the war hero.
Krueger got to know Margaret Zerwekh, a woman in her 90s who lives on the Delafield property once owned by Cushing's family. Zerwekh started the movement to get Cushing the Medal of Honor, and Krueger has taken the baton from her.
Zerwekh suggested Krueger talk to the mayor of Delafield about drumming up support for a medal for Cushing. When Krueger approached the mayor, he was invited to head a committee to push for the medal and make sure the city is prepared in the event a medal is awarded.
Although the medal's full name is the Congressional Medal of Honor, Krueger explained that it takes more than a nomination and Congressional approval to present someone with the award.
First, the branch of the military in which a candidate served must approve the nomination.
In 2010, the Army said it had investigated the claims about Cushing's action at Gettysburg and had approved a medal for Cushing.
However, the steps that follow are more complex, especially in Cushing's case, where the action deserving of the medal happened so long ago.
"Talking to Congressional and Senatorial staffers, asking what is the next step, there was complete disagreement," Krueger said. He started writing letters, including some to the White House, to get more information.
Krueger said he learned that "legislation must be passed by both Houses of Congress to waive the time limit. After passage, the President makes the final approval regarding the nomination."
Krueger said that last year, the House of Representatives approved a bill to award the medal, but the measure died before it got approval from the Senate.
Krueger said he was disappointed that the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg passed without Cushing getting the medal.
But he's hopeful approval will come.
"Alonzo Cushing is the personification of just giving his all," Krueger said. He plans to keep working toward the medal until it's awarded, he said.
But some say the medal isn't necessary or appropriate after all this time.
"I question the validity of giving (the medal) 150 years later," Heiser said. "The stories are being preserved, which I think is more important than the granting of a medal."
Heiser said the fact that Cushing was not awarded a medal has kept people talking about him and his heroic action, and perhaps is the reason more people know about his legacy.
Krueger said the medal isn't what would give meaning to Cushing's heroism, but it would stand as a symbol of it. And that's something Cushing would be proud of, even if it's 150 years late.
"I would think that serving his country and then having the thanks of the country presented in such a tangible way, .... I can't think that Alonzo would be anything other than thrilled and gratified, humbly of course, that his country was willing to recognize his valor."