The Medal of Honor is the highest distinction which can be awarded to a member of the Armed Services of the United States. It is presented by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, to an individual who, while serving in the Armed Forces, “distinguished himself conspicuously by Gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
What and Where is the Medal of Honor Grove
The Medal of Honor Grove at Freedom’s Foundation at Valley Forge Pennsylvania contains 52 acres of natural woodland and is designed as a living memorial to the 3447 recipients of our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. A section of the grove is designated for each of the fifty states, Puerto Rico and District of Columbia. The AOH also has a section dedicated to unclaimed recipients who were born outside the United States. Each state has an Obelisk and each Medal of Honor recipient is identified by a stainless steel marker with the names and organization of the recipient and the date and location of the act of valor. Each marker is mounted near a living tree where possible.
The Freedom’s Foundation was established in 1949 by 3 prominent businessmen and the Medal of Honor Grove was dedicated in 1964. President Dwight Eisenhower served as its chairman from 1949 until his death in 1969. He was responsible for forming the Grove and honoring our heroes and at the dedication he said that “every true American should come to Valley Forge at least once in his lifetime”. The person who donated the land for the grove stated that the land would be unencumbered but at the moment that status has changed. Although rumors persist about selling part of the grove, Michael Di Yeso, the president and CEO of the Foundation admits that the grove is in bad shape, needs work, and has been approached by developers but assured us it is not for sale.
The Medal of Honor Grove also contain the general Henry Knox building which contains the citation and personal history of each recipient and various displays of medals and artifacts. The George Washington at Prayer statue and the Patriots Path shows various medals for service and heroism for each of the Armed Services.
There are 3447 recipients of the Medal; 86 of them are still alive. There were 464 recipients from WW II, 18 of whom are still living; 133 from Korea, 13 of whom are still alive and 247 from Vietnam, 55 of whom are still living.
There can be a difference of opinion on the number of recipients because some recipients received more than 1 medal, but the first Medal of Honor action was by Irish-born Colonel Bernard Irwin in February, 1861, although he didn’t receive the medal until years later. The first one to receive an actual Medal was Jacob Parrott, on March 25th, 1863. The only female to receive the Medal was Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a civil war surgeon at Bull Run and the latest person to receive it was Staff Sgt. Robert Miller on October 6th 2010. The youngest recipient was just 11 years old and the oldest was 62. The Medal of Honor Grove was the subject of the following editorial comments in the Copley News Sacramento Union:
But the persons who have heard forests praying, and who know that only God can make a tree, will find their inspiration in the Grove itself. There, they can watch the exhilarating inspiration of His botanical works with the singular greatness He has bestowed upon those men who possess the qualities to earn a Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor Grove in Disrepair
Brothers, now for the sad truth about this Grove which honor the recipients of our Nation’s highest military award:
The entire 52 acre site is in need of general repair and maintenance. There are a number of dead trees, tree branches and shrubs which need to be removed and the grass itself needs to be cut down. Weeds grow between bricks and around the obelisks even to the point of obscuring some of them, seating areas are broken but many are still repairable and buildings are in need of a good facelift. Most Obelisks are moss covered and need to be cleaned. Pathways need to be resurfaced and many of the individual markers with the name and unit of those recipients need to be replaced or repaired. These markers (and trees) were donated by family members and service organizations. In a number of areas those trees have died or have dead branches hanging down and many of the markers have been removed and are lying in a pile.
Hibernians should note that EVERY state has a one acre plot and almost all of them are in dire need of repair. We ask that if you cannot have someone to take care of your state plot please contact your politicians, friends, veteran organizations and AOH divisions in your area and ask that they donate to the Hibernian Charity to have their areas cleaned up. We here in the area will make sure that NO State Grove will be left in the condition that it is in now. Many of our returning and out of work veterans would be glad to do this work and make a few dollars to help their families survive this economy. We as an organization owe this to our veterans and will continue to do our volunteer work for as long as it takes to get the job done.
Pennsylvania State Senator, Andy Dinniman has been very supportive of the effort to bring this place of tribute back to its natural beauty and to honor the recipients as they should be honored. At one point Andy said that “the site is a desecration and I really don’t think that’s too strong a word.” Senator Dinniman first visited the site this past July after hearing from a local Medal of Honor Recipient, David Dolby, and many of his other constituents, including AOH members from the Wolf Tone Division in West Chester. The Senator said he was appalled at the lack of maintenance and he called the site a desecration.. The grove sits in the Senator’s district.
Senator Dinniman and Mick Dunleavy, president of AOH Division 1 in West Chester Pennsylvania, have been the catalyst in our determination to bring this grove back into shape. They have met many times with people who are interested in giving whatever help is needed to accomplish this goal and the publicity in newspapers and other media have brought hundreds of inquiries about the state of the grove.
On September 16th a group of AOH officers and members including National President Seamus Boyle, Past President’s Joe Roche and Ned McGinley, Mick Dunleavy, Art Treston, Joe Devine and Bob McCann from the Wolf Tone Division 1 West Chester, Tony Nahill AOH Division 39 Philadelphia, Pete Hand and Mark Ryan from Montgomery County Pennsylvania, met at the site in Valley Forge and walked the site observing the state of disrepair and cataloging what needed to be done.
Following the walk we met with the President and CEO of Freedoms Foundation, Michael Di Yeso, who agreed that the Grove was in bad shape and explained that much of the problem was neglect over the past few years due to the economy and lack of funds earmarked for the grove. He also explained that the grass only gets cut twice a year due to the expense of $5,000 per cutting. He is willing to work with us as a group and see, if together, we can put the Grove back in its original state. Senator Dinniman has been leading the charge in getting volunteers for the work and he thanks the AOH for all their help and he knows we were there in force on Friday October 8th Sunday October 10th and Monday October 11th. Changes were suggested on both sides and the foundation has already started to do some of the work with volunteers from the area through the Senators office.
To make a tax deductible donation for the continued upkeep of the Medal of Honor Grove please make all checks payable to Hibernian Charity and put Medal of Honor on the memo line. Send check to Hibernian Charity, PO Box 391, 315 Chamberlain Hwy, Meriden CT 06451. Hibernian Charity is a 501c3.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians Obelisk:
In 1985, under the direction of National President Joe Roche, an obelisk of Wicklow Granite was erected in the grove to honor all of the recipients of the Medal of Honor who were not previously recognized as affiliated with a home state. Listed on the AOH Obelisk are the names of 150 foreign born recipients of the Medal of Honor from at least 14 countries who could not be accredited to a state since they were signed up off the boat or victims of lost documentation. Of this group 65 are credited with Irish birth. The list of other recipients and their country of birth are as follows:
Australia 1 Ireland 65 Switzerland 4
Canada 11 Norway 2 West Indies 1
Denmark 1 Philippines 2 Birthplace Unknown 5
England 12 Scotland 3
France 4 South Wales 1
Germany 36 Sweden 2
How We Got Involved in The Medal of Honor Grove
Sister Marie Veronica of the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, had retired to Camilla Hall after a life time of teaching. Not one to sit around, she made it her life’s ambition to do a military research on all of the men who were the recipients of the Medal of Honor in our nation’s history. It was during this research that she had noticed that a number of the men who received the medal could not be accredited to any state or territory. Most of these men had been born in Ireland and never had the opportunity to become an American citizen. Sister Veronica was a very good friend of the late Bob Dougherty. Bob was a very active member (and a charter member) of the Chester County AOH. Bob passed this information on to the AOH National President, Joe Roche. Joe formed a committee and through the dedication and hard work of this committee, the idea of an AOH obelisk was brought to fruition. The seven foot, seven inch obelisk made of Wicklow granite, which is centered on an octagonal plaza, is located near the entrance to the Medal of Honor Grove overlooking a man made pond. Engraved on the memorial are the names of those men from Ireland who are recipients of the medal with the names of those men from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Norway, Philippines, Scotland, South Wales, Sweden, Switzerland, West Indies and the names of five men with a birthplace unknown. In 1989 Sister Marie Veronica, received the prestigious Anna C. Malia Award from the Pennsylvania Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, for her historical research.
What the Grove Looks Like After Our 3 Day Cleanup
The Freedoms Foundation is responsible for the upkeep of the grove but over the past too many years it has been badly neglected to the point that the whole grove was overgrown. The obelisks were never cleaned and many of the markers were missing or damaged. Our own Obelisk was in poor condition which led us to check on all the rest of them and most were in worse shape than ours.
We began gathering volunteers, equipment and donations from local people and the foundation gave us 3 days to clean up what had been neglected for many years.
In those 3 days we had over 1,000 volunteers from the AOH, other organizations, local high schools, veterans, military personnel and a multitude of donations from drinking water to port-a-potties. We had commercial power washers donated with a crew of volunteers to use them, landscapers and their workers, tractors, backhoes, wood chippers, dump trucks, pickup trucks, trailers, Bob Cats and grapplers, chain saws, weed whackers, leaf blowers and more equipment is promised for our cleanup in the spring. The local fire company was there with a pumper truck and an ambulance was on site for all three days as well as local police directing traffic. There was over 40 tons of wood which was chipped for mulch, 25 tons of stumps and other debris which was moved off site to a dump, much of the wood was burned on the helipad and over 4 cubic yards of ash was removed from there and numerous dead and diseased trees and limbs were cut down and disposed of. And this is only a start. We did get the grove cleaned up but there is much more work to be done in the spring. Pathways need to be re-surfaced, concrete and brick surrounds at the Obelisks need to be repaired or replaced. We need flag poles and American and State flags to be erected on the state sites, there are only a few there presently and we need to replace or repair many of the state boards and the recipients markers. I would like to have a state flag and American flag and 2 poles from each state and we will make sure they get erected. The schools whose students took part in this cleanup got an extra education not only about the Medal of Honor grove but got to meet three live recipients, one each day. On Friday, it was Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Davis, who the movie Forrest Gump was based on. On Sunday it was Col. Walter Marm, who the movie “We Were Soldiers” was based on and on Monday it was Maj. General James E Livingstone. Each of these MOH recipients took the time to speak to the volunteers. Some people never get to meet a real live Medal of Honor Recipient and these volunteers got to meet three who thanked them for all the work they did for their brother recipients and for all soldiers past present and future.
I need every division, county and state to approach your local, state and federal politician and let him know what a deplorable condition his state plot is in. I am sure that if we all act and get a donation from these politicians, who can always find funds for other purposes, they can certainly come up with some money to bring the Medal of Honor Grove back to its original splendor. It is time the politicians helped us; they have no problem asking us for our vote when they need us, this is a two way street. We have started a fund which will be controlled by the Hibernian Charity for the purpose of the upkeep of this Medal of Honor Grove. Tax Deductible donations can be made to the Hibernian Charity and in the memo section put MOH Grove. This money will be used only for the grove. Checks must be made out to Hibernian Charity and mailed to PO Box 391, 315 Chamberlain Hwy. Meriden CT 06451. If any division, county, state board or individual would like to make a donation the information is listed above. Talk to other organizations especially veterans organization and let them know what is happening to our recipients and maybe they will donate also.
In conclusion I want to thank all the volunteers who worked or made donations over the 3 day period and to have been a part of that and meeting the Medal of Honor recipients who were there was an experience I will not soon forget.