Say you’re pinned down by enemy fire, but the only way through is to soldier on. Or perhaps a fellow crewman has fallen overboard and is in real danger of drowning in the cold, hazardous waters of the ocean. What would you do in such circumstances? Would you risk your life for your country or comrades? These astonishing 19 men certainly did, and their heroic actions earned them each not one, but two Medals of Honor for their outstanding bravery.
19. Frank D. Baldwin
Frank D. Baldwin was a soldier of some repute. The Michigan-born man earned his first Medal of Honor on July 12, 1864, when he guided his men in a daring counterattack during the Battle of Peachtree Creek in the American Civil War. Despite incoming fire the Union Army Major surged forward ahead of his unit, and fought his way through to the Confederate line. Baldwin then apprehended two leading officers, taking them, their weapons and a guidon flag back to base.
Later on in his life, Baldwin got involved in the U.S. Army’s many battles with the Native Americans. And it was through a clash with them that he would ultimately earn his second Medal of Honor. When two white girls were kidnapped by Grey Beard’s men in November 1874, the future general launched a lightning raid to rescue them. Heavily outnumbered, his two companies somehow defeated the well-fortified forces to spare the girls from the same fate as their parents and brothers.
18. Smedley Butler
Pennsylvania-born Smedley Butler would become a legendary figure in the U.S. Marine Corps for his long service and heroic actions. His conduct in two particular conflicts would earn him the distinguished Medal of Honor twice. The first award was for the bravery and tactical nous he displayed on April 22, 1914, when the major expertly led his battalion through a heated battle for control of Veracruz. The fierce struggle for the city occurred during the nascent Mexican Revolution, and was ultimately a success for the American invaders.
Butler’s second Medal of Honor was earned during service in Haiti. Yes, on November 17, 1915, ‘Old Gimlet Eye’ orchestrated a cunning assault on Fort Riviere, a longstanding, French-built fortress. Under his command, several detachments of marines plus himself moved in to capture the stronghold and effectively cut off all escape routes for the Caco resistance. In his final years, Butler became an vehement critic of U.S. imperialism, and also uncovered an apparent plot to remove President Franklin D. Roosevelt from power via a military coup.
17. John Laver Mather Cooper
John Cooper first distinguished himself in the U.S. Navy way back on August 5, 1864. The Dublin-born sailor was aboard the U.S.S. Brooklyn on that day, and found himself at the heart of the action as the Unionists fought against the Confederate enemy in the Battle of Mobile Bay. As the ship suffered severe damage and numerous comrades fell to the intense enemy fire, Cooper courageously took the fight to them with his gun. He played a significant role as the Union forced the surrender of the ram C.S.S. Tennessee, and destroyed the many batteries at Fort Morgan.
Cooper’s second commendable act came less than a year later. Yes, on April 26, 1865, an accidental fire burst out at Mobile, Alabama. With no apparent thought for his own safety, the serving quartermaster rushed through the burning area and exploding shells to save a wounded comrade from an ugly demise. Cooper carried him on his back to an area of safety. The two-time Medal of Honor recipient is interred at Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
16. Louis Cukela
Louis Cukela was a soldier of immense bravery. Born on May 1, 1888, in Split, Croatia – back then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – he emigrated to the United States in 1913 with his brother. After settling in Minnesota, Cukela joined the United States Army and later the Marine Corps. It was while serving in the latter that Cukela would earn his Medals of Honor from both the United States Army and Navy, specifically for his conduct in World War I’s Battle of Soissons.
On July 18, 1918, in France’s Forest de Retz, Cukela took the fearless decision to advance alone against an enemy stronghold that was hampering his line’s progress. The apparent suicide mission saw him slink out from the flank under heavy fire until he reached a point behind the enemy’s foxhole. The Croatian-American then rushed the machine-gun emplacement, either killing or driving off its crew with his rifle bayonet, before bombing the stronghold with their own hand grenades and capturing four men and two machine guns.
15. Thomas Ward Custer
The second-youngest brother of George Armstrong Custer, Thomas Ward Custer served in the United States Army like his infamous sibling. The Ohio-born officer was awarded a Medal of Honor for his efforts in the Battle of Namozine Church on April 3, 1865, when he captured an enemy flag and numerous adversaries. Custer was among the Union forces who charged Confederate barricades, successfully leaping over them with his horse whilst evading enemy fire. He then snatched the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry’s flag and took 14 of their men prisoner.
Custer would also earn a second Medal of Honor for his astonishing bravery just three days later, also during the American Civil War. This time, the middle brother was fighting in the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, when he made another horse-based charge at the enemy’s barricades. Surrounded by the Confederate forces, the Unionist officer fired his pistol to scatter them before charging the color-bearer and capturing another flag. Sadly, Custer was shot in the face during the altercation and would later be killed alongside his two siblings in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
14. Daniel Joseph Daly
Labeled as “the fightin’est Marine I ever knew” by Smedley Butler, Daniel Joseph Daly was one tough cookie. The New York-born soldier excelled at combat and landed a first Medal of Honor for his bravery “in the presence of the enemy during the Battle of Peking, China” on August 14, 1900. The Boxer Rebellion was in full swing, and an unsupported Daly successfully defended his position against the enemy’s incessant attacks, causing approximately 200 casualties.
His second Medal of Honor would arrive 15 years on, by which time he was in Haiti to prop up a government sympathetic to the Americans that had come under attack from rebels. As nighttime arrived on October 24, 1915, the New Yorker was with a group of 35 to 41 Marines crossing a river. Suddenly, they were ambushed by 400 Cacos. Daly eventually led one group of the heavily outnumbered men to the safety of a nearby fort under heavy fire. He later served in World War I before passing away in 1937.
13. Henry Hogan
Irish-born soldier Henry Hogan would become an American hero of some repute. The man from County Clare moved Stateside sometime in the mid-1800s and joined the U.S. Army. Hogan was placed in the 5th Infantry Regiment and his brave conduct in the Battle of Cedar Creek, where he confronted Sitting Bull’s Lakota warriors, earned him a Medal of Honor. The date the now-famous Montana skirmish began was October 21, 1876.
Just under one year on from his brave conduct at Cedar Creek, Hogan would surpass himself in battle. Yes, on September 30, 1877, the Irish-born soldier was with the 5th Infantry fighting in the Battle of Bear Paw. When his comrade Henry Romeyn was seriously wounded, Hogan scrambled to carry the soldier out of the danger zone despite a barrage of fire from Nez Perce forces. He was rewarded with a second Medal of Honor for his efforts.
12. Ernest A. Janson, a.k.a. Charles F. Hoffman
Ernest A. Janson served in both the U.S. Army and Marines with some distinction. The New Yorker, who was later known as Charles F. Hoffman, would be bestowed with two Medals of Honor: one each from the grateful Army and Navy. According to his citation, the Gunnery Sergeant showed “extraordinary heroism” in World War I, while serving with the 49th Company, 5th Regiment at Chateau-Thierry, France.
On June 6, 1918, at the Battle of Belleau Wood Janson helped repel several counterattacks on the newly-taken Hill 142 that had been launched before the strategic position was effectively secured. While consolidating the north slope, the New Yorker spotted a dozen enemy soldiers, armed with five light machine guns, creeping toward his men. The citation notes that, after raising the alarm, “he rushed the hostile detachment, bayoneted the two leaders, and forced the others to flee, abandoning their guns.” Ultimately, Janson’s rapid tactical decisions and bravery drove the enemy away, saved lives and established the hill.
11. John J. Kelly
John J. Kelly would become another of that rare breed of soldier rewarded with both the U.S. Army and Navy Medals of Honor. He earned these lofty accolades through his remarkable conduct during the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge in World War I. Specifically he was honored for what he did on the French battlefield on Sunday, October 13, 1918.
Private Kelly, as cited by the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, “showed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 78th Company, 6th Regiment, Second Division.” Indeed, the fearless American sprinted over the front line to launch a surprise assault on an enemy machine gun nest. The Chicago native took out the gunner with a grenade, before slaying another with his pistol. He returned to base with eight enemies he’d captured. Kelly was the longest-lived of all the double MOH winners; he passed away in November 1957.
10. John King
John King produced two moments of supreme valor whilst serving in the U.S. Navy. The Ireland-born sailor’s conduct in these events that were roughly eight years apart would see him elevated to the select group of 19 servicemen to earn the Medal of Honor twice. According to the official citation, the first was awarded “for extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession at the time of the accident to the boilers… May 29, 1901.” King was aboard the U.S.S. Vicksburg at the time.
On September 13, 1909 King was on board the U.S.S. Salem when another boiler explosion occurred. It must have been like déjà vu for the Irishman, who was serving as a watertender in the U.S. Navy. But once again the sailor was reported to have kept his cool and shown “extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession” when the accident happened.
9. Matej Kocak
Matek Kocak arrived in the United States from what is now Slovakia back in 1906. In his short life he would become a military legend for his adopted nation. Yes, the Marine Corps sergeant would be posthumously bestowed with Medals of Honor from both the Army and Navy for the “heroism above and beyond the call of duty” he displayed on the battlefield one summer day in 1918.
It was July 18 of that year, and the forward progress of Kocak’s battalion was being halted by a machine gun nest. The Slovak decided in the moment to push forward alone, with no covering fire, and rush the gunner. Under heavy fire, he made it and drove off the German crew with his bayonet. Later on in the battle, he led 25 French soldiers in an assault of another machine gun nest, which they successfully put out of action. Sadly, Kocak would be killed in the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge less than three months later.
8. John Laverty
John Laverty was another example of a soldier who arrived from Ireland to make a lasting impact in the U.S. military. On May 25, 1864, as the American Civil War raged, the County Tyrone-born sailor was on board the U.S.S. Wyalusing and traveling along Roanoke River. Laverty volunteered to help the Unionists transfer two torpedoes needed to blast the Confederacy ram C.S.S Abemarle across an island swamp. The Irishman then guarded the weapons and wet clothes shed by the others for about 24 hours before safely returning from the ordeal.
His bravery in the treacherous swamp of North Carolina would land Laverty his first Medal of Honor. The second award would come from his actions on September 14, 1881. On that date, the Irishman was on board the U.S.S. Alaska as it ventured up Callao Bay, off the coast of Peru. A stop-valve chamber ruptured on the ship, and the brave sailor managed to somehow extinguish the flames under the boiler. He died in 1903 in Pennsylvania.
7. John McCloy
Lieutenant Commander John McCloy is a distinguished figure in American military history. The New York-born officer served in the U.S. Navy for many years, taking part in numerous major campaigns. He won his first Medal of Honor for his conduct during the Boxer Rebellion of June 1900 in China, when he was serving with the Allied forces’ relief expedition. According to his citation, Coxswain McCloy showed immense bravery in the face of the rebels.
McCloy was rewarded with a second Medal of Honor for his actions in Veracruz, Mexico. On April 22, 1914, while serving as Chief Boatswain, he bravely led three picket launches along the seafront. These drew heavy fire from the Mexican resistance, but the move enabled the nearby cruisers to move in and save the men stranded on shore. In the action, the New Yorker was wounded, but defiantly manned his post. He died in May 1945 at the age of 69.
6. Patrick Mullen
Ireland-born Patrick Mullen enlisted in the U.S. Navy in Baltimore sometime in the mid-1800s. And whilst serving as a boatswain’s mate on the U.S.S. Wyandank, he excelled in combat to earn a Medal of Honor. Yes, during an expedition up Mattox Creek on March 17, 1865, Mullen’s commanding officer ran into trouble. The Irishman, whilst sprawled on the floor, loaded the ship’s howitzer, and fired with great accuracy to kill and wound numerous Confederate rebels, the survivors making a hasty retreat.
Mullen’s second military commendation would be earned just a few months later, on May 1, 1865. Once again serving as boatswain’s mate – this time aboard the U.S.S. Don – he was key in rescuing the crew of Picket Launch No. 6, a screw steamer that had become swamped. After spotting an officer struggling to keep his head above the water, Mullen leapt overboard to save him from drowning, hauling his comrade on to the boat. What a hero!
5. Louis Williams
The man who would become known in America as Louis Williams, the respected recipient of two Medals of Honor, was actually born Ludwig Andreas Olsen in Oslo, Norway. Williams emigrated to the U.S. in the 1800s and joined the Navy in 1870. And two near-identical feats of bravery would see him join an elite band of soldiers, the 19 club, if you will.
Firstly, on March 16, 1883, Williams was serving on the U.S.S. Lackawanna off Honolulu, Hawaii, when a fellow sailor found himself in the ocean water, in some peril. With little regard for his own safety, the Norwegian-American dived in to save him. He repeated the trick 15 months later, this time saving a seaman off the coast of Peru.
4. John H. Pruitt
U.S. Marine John H. Pruitt may have lived a desperately short life, but he at least made a big impact within his 21 years. The two-time Medal of Honor winner was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas on October 4, 1896, and joined the Marines in May 1917 as World War I was raging in Europe. And it was while fighting for the Allied cause in France that he would go down in history.
Yes, during the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge, Corporal Pruitt showed incredible bravery when he made an assault on and then seized two enemy machine guns. Later that day he helped detain 40 of the Central Powers’ forces. Sadly, though, the very next day the courageous Arkansan would join the ranks of the fallen, slain by shell fire on his 22nd birthday. Pruitt now rests in the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
3. Robert Augustus Sweeney
Robert Augustus Sweeney is notable in the “19 Club” – not a real thing, but I’m going with it – as the only African-American to earn two Medals of Honor. Whilst onboard U.S.S. Kearsarge on October 26, 1881, Sweeney’s fellow seaman E.M. Christoverson tumbled from a Jacob’s ladder and into the sea. Our hero jumped overboard into the rough waters to try and save Christoverson, who in a panic pulled him underwater. Finally, Cadet Midshipman John B. Bernadon dived in to aid both men, as they climbed a rope thrown overboard to safety.
Then, on the afternoon of December 20, 1883, Sweeney would repeat his water-based heroics. A boy fell overboard the U.S.S. Jamestown from a plank between the ship and the U.S.S. Yantic. Time was of an essence, so he jumped in to save him, aided by one of the Jamestown’s crew. The courageous African-American passed away on December 19, 1890.
2. Albert Weisbogel
Albert Weisbogel was another who unusually earned his dual Medal of Honor gongs during a time of peace. The New Orleans-born sailor was serving on the U.S.S. Benica on January 11, 1874, when Wolf, a U.S. Marine, suddenly threw himself overboard in a suicide bid. Weisbogel wasn’t having it though, and risked his own life by diving in to haul him back onboard to safety.
Two years later, Weisbogel had worked his way up to Captain of the U.S.S. Plymouth’s Mizzen Top. Then on April 27, 1876, shortly after receiving his first medal, another crew member found themselves overboard, in the hazardous waters off Jamaica. Once again, the New Orleanian dived in and pulled the stricken sailor, Landsman Peter J. Kenny, to safety. What a legend.
1. William Wilson
William Wilson served in the U.S. Army’s Cavalry during the Indian campaigns of the 19th century. In March 1872 the Philadelphian got word that several Comanche had pinched cattle from a farm near Fort Concho. Wilson duly led 21 men in pursuing the tribe, riding overnight before catching up with them by the Colorado River the next morning. Four of the raiders were killed in the ensuing battle, and the company captured a Mexican teenager with them. He revealed the Comanche’s activities and location, leading to the uncovering of a ring of the tribe and smugglers.
After receiving a Medal of Honor for that success, Wilson excelled in combat again six months later. This time he was part of a sizable U.S. Cavalry force in Texas that discovered a major Comanche settlement. On September 28, 1872, the U.S. forces attacked. What became known as the Battle of the North Fork of the Red River started badly though, until Wilson took charge. He and his unit subsequently slew 100 Comanche and took many more prisoner before torching their village and seizing all their supplies and ponies. The Philadelphian won his second Medal of Honor for his conduct that day.