DES MOINES – The State Historical Society of
Iowa today unveiled a new exhibit in the State Capitol
that recognizes Iowa’s 108 Medal of Honor recipients.
“Iowa Medal of Honor Heroes” is a permanent
state-of-the-art multimedia kiosk that recognizes
Iowa soldiers who received the Medal of Honor, the
nation’s highest military award. The Medal of
Honor is given for distinguished gallantry during
hostile action and is presented by the President of
the United States in the name of Congress. Authorized
in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln, the Medal of
Honor has recognized the valor and sacrifice of 108
Iowans in 10 major conflicts. Fewer than 3,500 soldiers
have received the award, more than half of them posthumously.
“As Iowans celebrate the Fourth of July, we
ask them and others to recognize and remember Iowa’s
Medal of Honor recipients,” said Anita Walker,
director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs,
which oversees the State Historical Society of Iowa.
“Their stories as told in this exhibit are emotional
and powerful, and they help us understand what courage
and bravery are all about.”
“All Iowans recognize the sacrifices that our
men and women who have represented the flag have made,”
Governor Vilsack said. “Iowa’s Medal of
Honor recipients have demonstrated bravery and courage
above and beyond the call of duty.”
The Medal of Honor project began in 2004 with legislative
action sponsored by Senator Dennis Black, (D-District
21). With Black’s research at the core of the
project, SHSI compiled the history of Iowa’s
Medal of Honor recipients.
Today’s event included more than 100 family
members of Iowa’s Medal of Honor recipients
and Sioux City native George E. “Bud”
Day, one of only three living Iowa Medal of Honor
recipients. The other two are John Baker, who resides
in South Carolina, and Vernon Baker, who lives in
Idaho. Vernon Baker wrote a letter that was read at
the event by Gayle Alvarez of the Idaho Military History
Day enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17 and
saw three years of active duty in the Pacific theater
during World War II. As a civilian, Day earned his
law degree and was recalled to active duty, trained
as a fighter pilot and served during the Korean Conflict.
In 1967, he was in command of a squadron during the
Vietnam War when he was shot down and endured more
than five years of prison in North Vietnam. He received
the Medal of Honor from President Gerald Ford in 1976,
nearly three years after he was released from a North
Vietnam prison in Hanoi.
SHSI staff also formally unveiled a Medal of Honor
flag during the ceremony. The “Hays Flag,”
a First National Flag of the Confederacy, was captured
April 16, 1865 by Pvt. John Hays, Company F, Fourth
Iowa Cavalry, during hand-to-hand fighting at Columbus,
GA. It was presented to the State of Iowa by order
of the Secretary of War in 1905.
The unveiling of the “Elson Flag,” the
Ninth Iowa Infantry Civil War Battle Flag, was rescheduled
this week when SHSI staff determined it is still too
fragile to put on display. SHSI curators believe the
flag carries the blood of Sgt. James Elson, who received
the Medal of Honor for his acts of courage at the
Battle of Vicksburg during the Civil War. SHSI conservators
will continue to stabilize the flag and prepare it
for public display. Meanwhile, the Department of Criminal
Investigation continues to conduct DNA tests to confirm
the blood on the flag is from Sgt. Elson.
The Iowa Medal of Honor Heroes exhibit will be available
online next month at www.culturalaffairs.org.
The State Historical Society of Iowa is a trustee
of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate
for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies,
records, collects, preserves, manages and provides
access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual
mission of preservation and education serves Iowans
of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates
information, and encourages and supports historical
preservation and education efforts of others throughout
the state. Please visit www.iowahistory.org
or call 515-281-5111 for more information.
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