New exhibit honors Iowa's Medal of Honor recipients

For immediate release June 30, 2006

 

 

Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

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 Association.

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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