Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How a Free T-shirt Lead to Military's Highest Honor

The Medal of Honor
"If I'm a hero, then every man who stands around me, every woman in the military, every person who defends this country is." 
~Salvatore Giunta

The first living service member to receive the Medal of Honor for action during any war since Vietnam described the experience Wednesday as bittersweet.

"It is such a huge, huge honor," said Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, now 25, of Hiawatha, Iowa. "It's emotional, and all of this is great. But it does bring back a lot of memories of all the people I'd like to share this with who I can't. They gave everything for this country, and because of that, we're not going to be able to share this moment together."

Giunta was chosen to receive the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary valor during a mission in one of the most dangerous areas of rugged eastern Afghanistan in 2007. Giunta, who serves in the Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, will receive his medal at a White House ceremony.

Giunta told of the Oct. 25, 2007, attack, when insurgents ambushed him and his small rifle team of airborne soldiers. He said his platoon was watching over another unit from a ridgeline as it entered a village. Shortly after leaving the area, he said, they were attacked along a trail.

Giunta was knocked flat by the gunfire, but a well-aimed round failed to penetrate his armored chest plate. As the paratroopers scrambled for cover, Giunta reacted instinctively. He ran straight into the heart of the ambush to aid, one by one, three wounded soldiers who had been separated from the others.

Two paratroopers died in the attack, and most of the others suffered serious wounds. But the toll would have been far higher if not for Giunta's bravery, according to members of his unit and Army officials.

Giunta spoke of his actions, saying, "I didn't run up to do anything heroic." He said he thought at the time, "Everybody's been shot at, and I might as well run forward. This was a situation we were put into," he said. "By no means did I do anything that others wouldn't have done."

Ironically, Giunta never planned a career in the military. When asked why he enlisted, he said he was mopping the floors late one night at the Subway sandwich shop he worked at, and heard on the radio that his local Army recruiter was giving away free t-shirts. "I guess I've always been a sucker for a free t-shirt."

Giunta enlisted in the Army in November 2003 and has deployed twice to Afghanistan. He said he hoped his award will bring more recognition for those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sacrifices they make in being away from their families and being put in harm's way.

According to Pentagon statistics, six service members have received Medals of Honor, all posthumously, for operations since September 2001.

~Todd E. Creason

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Famous Freemason: Before Treachery, There Was Valor

General Benedict Arnold
"Let me die in this old uniform in which I fought my battles.  May God forgive me for ever having put on another."

~Benedict Arnold

On October 11, 1776, during the American Revolution, a British fleet engaged and after considerable effort finally defeated fifteen American gunboats under the command of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain, New York. Although nearly all of Arnold's ship were destroyed, it took the British more than two days to subdue Arnold's naval force.  The delay of the British fleet gave the Patriot ground forces adequate time to prepare a crucial defense of New York.  General Arnold was willing to make that sacrifice in order to buy that time the defense forces needed to protect New York.

It was four years later, when Benedict Arnold, as commander of West Point, agreed to surrender West Point to the British for $20,000. The plot was discovered after British spy John AndrĂ© was captured, forcing Arnold to flee to British protection, where he joined in their fight against the country that he once so valiantly served. No one understands all the reasons that lead this once valiant solider and trusted General under George Washington to such a shameless act of treachery, but his name has since become synonymous with the word "traitor" in America.

He paid for his crime for the rest of his life--never able to return to the United States, the country he had once loved.  He was a Mason- a member of Hiram Lodge No. 1 in New Haven, Connecticut.  His name was expunged from the rolls after his act of treason, and in many Masonic Lodges, for many years, his name was not to be uttered in open lodge.  He was never accepted or trusted by the British.

He died in London in 1801.

~Todd E. Creason

Based on a piece previously published October 11, 2011

Thursday, August 17, 2017

When A Corrupt Bargain Decided The Presidency

Andrew Jackson
Grand Master of Masons of
Tennessee 1822-24
February 9, 1825

Andrew Jackson ran against three other candidates in 1824: Henry Clay, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time, William Crawford, and John Quincy Adams. An-drew Jackson received the largest share of the popular vote and the most electoral votes as well, but with four candidates, no candidate had the majority, so it was up to the House of Representatives to decide the election. Jackson had ninety-nine electoral votes, John Quincy Adams eighty-four, Crawford forty-one and Clay thirty-seven. Clay’s votes, however, were not considered because he was Speaker of the House. Since most of Clay’s backers considered Jackson their second choice for President, the general consensus was that Clay’s votes would go to Jackson and that he would win the Presidency. However, in what was later dubbed a “corrupt bargain,” Clay gave his votes to John Quincy Adam—an act which surprised many. Very shortly after John Quincy Adams was announced the winner of the election on February 9, 1825, he made Henry Clay the Secretary of State. It was pretty obvious even to the elitists in government that Adams and Clay had made a dirty deal.

Jackson was outwardly calm. He even attended a reception for the President-elect given by President Monroe. Adams wrote in his diary, "It was crowded to overflowing. General Jackson was there, and we shook hands. He was altogether placid and courteous."

John Quincy Adams
But Jackson was livid. He was convinced, as were his many supporters, that Henry Clay had traded his votes for the Secretary of State position. Jackson later said, "The Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver. His end will be the same." Jackson supporters claimed they had been robbed. The Nashville Gazette declared Jackson a candidate for President in 1828 without even consulting him, but Jackson was more than willing to make another run for the Presidency. It was the beginning of one of the longest and ugliest campaigns in the history of American politics—even by today’s standards.

For the next four years, shots were exchanged between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams in the press. Jackson accused Adams of being a dishonest and corrupt politician—a perfect example of what was wrong with government. Adams accused Jackson of being a murderer and a dangerous militant, as well as immoral in his personal life.  With little popular support, Adams' time in the White House was for the most part ineffectual, and the so-called Corrupt Bargain continued to haunt his administration. In 1828, he was defeated in his reelection bid by Andrew Jackson, who received more than twice as many electoral votes than Adams.

~Todd E. Creason

Excerpt from Famous American Freemasons: Volume I originally posted 2/9/11

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Famous Illinois Freemason: "Uncle Joe" Cannon's Shoplifting Case

"Uncle Joe" Cannon political cartoon
Tempestuous Illinois Freemason, Joseph Gurney "Uncle Joe" Cannon, served a record-long term as Speaker of the House between November 9, 1903 and March 4, 1911. He was known for his fiery rhetoric, and his iron-fisted rule of Washington D.C. That period of Washington D. C. politics is known as "The Age of Cannon."  His record as Speaker of the House stood for fifty-nine years until another Illinoisian, Dennis Hassert, finally broke it.  When Uncle Joe Cannon finally retired in 1922, he was featured on the very first cover of Time magazine.  He returned to his home on Vermilion Street in Danville, Illinois, where he lived out the remainder of his life.

Abe and Sarah Bush Lincoln
But it was one of Joe Cannon's early cases that was the most interesting. Long before moving to Danville, Illinois, he lived in Tuscola, Illinois, and served as state's attorney for the 27th juducial district between 1861and 1868.  During this time he was sent to Charleston, Illinois to defend a woman accused of shoplifting--she had taken a piece of cloth from a local store.  After interviewing the woman, he learned she'd taken a small swatch of material home to compare the color against a piece she was working on--a common enough practice in that day.  Joe Cannon talked to the judge, and was able to get the charges dropped.  It was just a misunderstanding after all. 

That was fortunate, because it wouldn't have looked good for the President of the United States, a man known as "Honest Abe," to have his step-mother, whom he called "mother" and credited with his sense of humor, convicted of shoplifting in Charleston, Illinois.

That's right, the woman that Joe Cannon went to defend was none other than Sarah Bush Lincoln.

I like to tell a story about a local hero every once in awhile, and Uncle Joe is definitely an iconic character in my part of the world--and of course, Lincoln spent some time here too.  Originally, Joe Cannon was made a Mason in Shelbyville, Illinois, he affliliated with Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 in Danville, Illinois in 1858--that lodge is still thriving.  I was told later, by my friend Michael Shirley (then Master of Tuscola Lodge No. 332) that he was also a charter member of that Illinois lodge, where he lived so many years.  He was also a member of Vermilion Chapter No. 82 of the Royal Arch, and the Athelstan Commandery of the Knights Tempar, both in Danville--sadly neither of those are still in existence. 

When I wrote about Uncle Joe Cannon in Famous American Freemasons: Volume II by friend Bob Blacketer, the Secretary of Olive Branch (then and now), went digging through all the musty and dusty records looking for material for the chapter in my book about Uncle Joe--I'd like to thank him again for that.  

~Todd E. Creason

Originally published February 9, 2012
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