New wall to honor Medal of Honor recipients in Orleans unveiled

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 March 2022 at 9:01 am

5 from county will be highlighted for acts of bravery in combat

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION — David Bellavia, a Medal of Honor recipient from Lyndonville, attended the unveiling of a new Medal of Honor wall in the Orleans County Office Building on Wednesday afternoon.

He is shown in front of photo of him receiving the medal from former President Donald Trump on June 26, 2019 in the East Room of the White House.

Bellavia is the first living veteran from the Iraq War to receive the nation’s highest military medal.

Bellavia is one of five county residents to receive the Medal of Honor. Charles D. Harris was the first to be honored with the medal for his heroism in the Apache Wars in 1869.

Bellavia said he is very appreciative to have grown up in Orleans County, where veterans are respected and people are encouraged to serve their country in the military.

He is a radio talk show host for WBEN and also travels extensively as an ambassador for the Army, speaking at colleges, high schools, bases and other events.

Congressman Chris Jacobs, second from right, joined in unveiling of the wall. Jacobs commended the Legislature for creating the wall, which is a prominent display about heroism on the second floor of the new addition of the County Office Building.

Jacobs praised Bellavia for his acts of valor on Nov. 10, 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq.

Bellavia led an infantry squad clearing houses of insurgents, saving the lives of the members of his unit. He is the first living Iraq War veteran to receive the nation’s highest honor for military service.

County Legislator Ed Morgan embraces Bellavia after the wall unveiling. Morgan attended the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House nearly three years ago.

Nancy Traxler, director of the Veterans Service Agency in Orleans County, discusses the history of the Medal of Honor. There have been about 3,500 recipients since the medal was first awarded on March 25, 1863.

County Chief Administrative Officer Jack Welch and Lisa Stenshorn, clerk of the Legislature, take the cover off the wall.

County legislators unveil the Medal of Honor wall in the county building. Pictured include from left: Ed Morgan, Don Allport, Bill Eick, David Bellavia, Lynne Johnson and John Fitzak.

The other four Medal of Honor recipients will be recognized on the wall. Johnson said she is hopeful family members of those individuals can attend the unveilings in the future.

Former Orleans County Historian Matthew Ballard researched the four other Medal of Honor recipients from Orleans County. He shared the following details in previous columns and presentations when he was historian:

• Forrest Vosler of Lyndonville was assigned as a radio operator and aerial gunner aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II with the 358th Bombardment Squadron, 303rd Bombardment Group stationed out of England. On Dec. 20, 1943, Vosler’s fourth combat mission. The plane was under fire and had two engines knocked out with the aircraft windmilling out of control. When a fellow aviator was knocked unconscious, Vosler maneuvered himself into the tailgun. Another 20-mm shell hit the aircraft, sending shrapnel into Vosler’s chest, face, and eyes. He continued to deliver defensive fire upon German aircraft until the attacks subsided. Nearly out of fuel and losing altitude quickly, the crew jettisoned every piece of equipment to lighten the plane.

Vosler, severely wounded and floating in and out of consciousness, begged the crew to throw him out of the plane to reduce weight. As the aircraft plunged into the frigid waters of the North Sea, Vosler crawled out of the aircraft onto a wing. A passing Norwegian trawler quickly picked up the crew and transferred them to a British rescue vessel. One of Vosler’s eyes had one of his to be removed, and the other required extensive surgery.

John Butts was awarded the Medal of Honor for acts of valor in the Normandy invasion in June 1944.

• John E. Butts of Medina is the only one of the five Medal of Honor recipients from Orleans County who received the honor posthumously. He was recognized for his heroic actions near Cape La Hague, France in World War II.

Butts was in command of four squads in Easy Company of the 60th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Division charged with driving towards St. Colombe, France. On June 12, 1944, 2nd Battalion progressed so quickly towards their objective that the remainder of 9th Division thought the 60th Infantry was lost. In fact, 2nd Battalion had pushed forward through heavy German resistance and established a bridgehead at the Douve River. Butts was wounded twice, first near Orglandes on June 14th and then at the Douve River just two days later; he refused medical treatment on both occasions in order to remain with his men.

On June 23, 1944, the 60th Infantry led the 9th Division’s advance from the Cotentin Peninsula as part of the breakout from St. Lo. While moving towards Flottemanville-Hague, Butts and his men encountered a German stronghold atop a hill, well defended with tanks, machine guns, and mortars. Butts was struck in the stomach by machine gun fire while progressing towards the objective. Pulling himself into the shelter of a nearby hedgerow, he planned a flanking maneuver with his Sergeants.

One squad was to progress up the left flank, another up the right flank, and the third was to remain in reserve. Holding one hand over his midsection and the other grasping his carbine, Butts charged the hill alone. The might of the entire German stronghold fell upon him directly, Butts falling approximately 10 yards from his objective. The distraction allowed the two flanking squads to outmaneuver the Germans while the third squad hit the hill head-on.

Awarded on July 19, 1945 by President Harry Truman, John Butts’ Medal of Honor citation references the two painful wounds he received in the days leading up to the deadly assault on June 23, 1944. His citation concluded by stating, “By his superb courage, unflinching valor and inspiring actions, 2d Lt. Butts enabled his platoon to take a formidable strong point and contributed greatly to the success of his battalion’s mission,” President Harry Truman said in the citation for the medal, which was awarded on July 19, 1945.

• Thomas Wilbur Kates, born in Shelby on May 7, 1865, received the Medal of Honor for his actions in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, a nearly two-year uprising led by the Yihetuan (or Boxers) against foreign imperialists in China.

Kates accepted enlistment with the U.S. Marine Corps at New York City on July 21, 1899. Pvt. Kates and other Marines were dispatched to China on June 18, 1900, where they remained through October 10, 1900. According to his citation, Kates was awarded the Medal of Honor “…for extraordinary heroism while serving with the 1st Regiment (Marines), in action in the presence of the enemy during the advance on Tientsin, China, 21 June 1900. Private Kates distinguished himself by meritorious conduct.”

Maj. Waller wrote in a letter dated July 6, 1900, that “…of the men I wish to say, while all in the engagements we participated in, behaved in such a manner as to bring forth the highest praise from the foreign officers…Cpl. Thomas W. Kates.”

He continued, “…the specifically distinguished of these being Corporal Kates and Privates Campbell and Francis, with the Colt gun.” According to the Report of the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps dated September 29, 1900, these three men remained with Lt. Powell, holding a position with an M1895 Colt-Browning Machine Gun until all but Campbell and Powell were gunned down. They destroyed the gun to prevent it from entering enemy hands before they commenced their retreat.

• Charles D. Harris, who fought in the Civil War, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Apache Wars in 1869. The specifics of the engagement and the actions that warranted the awarding of the medal remain shrouded in mystery. After the war, Harris returned to Albion and lived a quiet life until his passing on September 6, 1895. He is buried at Mount Albion Cemetery.