Eureka Springs native is Carroll County's lone Medal of Honor recipient

Thursday, May 19, 2005
The Congressional Medal of Honor

When Circuit Judge Alan D. Epley was at the state capitol in Little Rock earlier this year he came across a monument to Arkansas' recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Checking the monument, which was built around 1995, for a Carroll County name he was surprised to find that of Capt. Marcellus H. Chiles as the county's only recipient of the 143-year-old award.

The judge had never heard of Chiles, and with Armed Forces Day coming up on May 21, it seemed a good time to research the question of who Chiles was.

Actually, Chiles' connection to the county is somewhat tenuous. While he was born in February 1895 in Eureka Springs, he entered the U.S. Army in Denver, Colo.

As a commander of the 356th Infantry, 89th Division, his battalion was halted by machine-gun fire near Le Champy Bas, France, on Nov. 3, 1918.

Capt. Chiles has just taken command of the battalion, and with fire coming from the front and left flank, he picked up the rifle of a dead soldier and, calling on his men to follow, led the advance across a stream, waist deep, in the face of the machine gun fire.

According to Congressional records, "Upon reaching the opposite bank this gallant officer was seriously wounded in the abdomen by a sniper, but before permitting himself to be evacuated he made complete arrangements for turning over his command to the next senior officer, and under the inspiration of his fearless leadership his battalion reached its objective."

Capt. Chiles died shortly after reaching the hospital, and his Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously.

The only other area Medal of Honor recipient found in records of the Government Printing Office, last updated in 1979, was U.S. Navy Reserve Pharmacist's Mate Third Class Jack Williams of Harrison, who was shot three times in the abdomen and groin while treating a marine wounded in a fierce grenade battle during the occupation of Iwo Jima Volcano Islands in March 1945.

After treating the marine and dressing his own wounds, he remained in the fire-swept area to treat another casualty before attempting to go to the rear for his own treatment. In his retreat, he was felled by a Japanese sniper bullet.

Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration in 1863, and since that time only about 3,400 men and one woman have received the award for heroic actions in the nation's battles.

The Arkansas monument was dedicated on Nov. 18, 2000, and is fashioned of rough and polished granite. At the center of a granite-paved circle is a brozne rerpesentation of an eagle on wing, and at the edge of the circle, granite slabs support metal plaques featuring likenesses of the 25 Medal of Honor reciipients claimed in whole or in part by Arkansas.

The honorees served in the American Civil War, the Indian Wars, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The first formal system for rewarding acts of individual gallantry by the nation's fighting men was established by Gen. George Washington in 1782. Designed to recognize "any singularly meritorious action," the so-called Badge of Military Merit consisted of a purple cloth heart, and records show that only three men received the award.

That award fell into oblivion after the Revolutionary War, but the idea of a decoration for individual gallantry remained through the early 1800s. In 1847, after the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, a "Certificate of Merit" was established for any soldier who distinguished himself in action, but no medal went with the honor.

After the Mexican-American War, there was no military award to recognize the nation's fighting men.

Early in the Civil War, a medal for individual valor was proposed to U.S. Army General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, but Scott killed the idea, feeling that medals smacked of European affectation.

The U.S. Navy, however, supported the idea, and Public Resolution 82, providing for a Navy medal of valor, was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in December 1861.

About seven months later, in July 1862, a similar provision for the Army was signed into law.

Although it was created for the Civil War, Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration in 1863.

In 1932, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then Army Chief of Staff, pressed for revival of the Badge of Military merit, and it was reinstituted as the now-familiar Purple Heart.

The Purple Heart was originally an Army award for those who had been wounded in World War I or possessed a meritorious Service Citation Certificate.

But in 1943, the order was amended to include personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, and eventually all services and "any civilian national" wounded while serving with the Armed Forces.

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