- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to 1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing, who gave his life at Gettysburg leading the effort to repel Pickett’s Charge, the White House said Tuesday in an announcement historians say corrects a glaring omission in the rolls of the nation’s top military honor.

Wounded in both his shoulder and stomach, Cushing manned the only remaining artillery piece, defending against the rebel charge that’s been called the high-water mark of the Confederacy. Cushing was cut down by a third wound as he successfully defended the spot, which has become known in military history lore as the Angle.

Those above and below him in rank already have been awarded the Medal of Honor, including Gen. Alexander S. Webb, who led the overall defense against Pickett’s Charge and approved Cushing’s request to advance, and Cushing’s own trusted Sgt. Frederick Fuger, who held up his wounded lieutenant so he could see the battlefield and served as Cushing’s megaphone, calling out the orders the senior officer could only whisper due to his two injuries.

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“An awful lot of people have been very interested in seeing Alonzo gets this nation’s highest honor,” said David Krueger, who has served as point man for the Medal of Honor effort in Delafield, Wisconsin, where the Cushing family had a farm at the time of the war. “Standing at the Angle at Cemetery Ridge, what was at stake was the survival of our nation, and this young 22-year-old artillery officer held the line; the men with him held the line. If the line breaks at that point, the war could possibly have ended with a Confederate victory.”

The White House announcement brings to a close a decadeslong campaign by Cushing’s backers and comes as the Medal of Honor itself is increasingly under scrutiny.

1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing (left) poses with other Union troops during the Civil War. Cushing is expected to be awarded the Medal of Honor nearly 150 years after he died defending a Union position during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. (Wisconsin Historical Society via Associated Press)
1st Lt. Alonzo Cushing (left) poses with other Union troops during the ... more >

Key lawmakers have questioned whether the process has become too politicized, saying there are other deserving troops from recent conflicts such as the Iraq war.

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Usually, those pushing for honors for long-dead military men are descendants. In Cushing’s case, there are no direct descendants, and his cause was taken up by people with much more tenuous personal connections but who saw an injustice to be corrected.

One of those was Kent Masterson Brown, who chronicled the lieutenant’s story in his book “Cushing of Gettysburg: The Story of a Union Artillery Commander.” Another is Margaret Zerwekh, a woman in her 90s who lives on part of what used to be the Cushing family’s farm, located along the Bark River in Delafield, west of Milwaukee.

She wrote her first letter on Cushing’s behalf in 1987, asking then-Sen. William Proxmire to take up the cause.

Congress had to play a role as well, waiving the time limits involved in the Medal of Honor so that Cushing would be eligible. The waiver came in last year’s defense policy bill.

On Tuesday the White House released a statement saying Cushing will finally get his due, along with two veterans of the Vietnam War.

One of those, Army Spc. Four Donald P. Sloat, was killed in action on Jan. 17, 1970, while using his body to absorb a grenade blast, saving the lives of three other soldiers.

The other, Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins, repeatedly braved intense hostile sniper and mortar fire to rescue wounded soldiers, then, despite suffering several wounds, fought off wave after wave of Viet Cong attacks on his position. Unable to reach the last evacuation helicopter, he rallied his comrades and fled into the jungle, where the group survived for two days until being rescued.

The Army, in its nomination for the Medal of Honor, estimated he killed up to 175 enemy troops and sustained 18 wounds himself.

Command Sgt. Maj. Adkins will attend a Sept. 15 ceremony at the White House along with his wife, Mary. Spc. Sloat’s brother will receive his medal at the same ceremony.

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