It is an honor like no other.
Since the Medal of Honor - also known as the Congressional Medal of Honor - was first authorized in 1861, more than 3,400 military service personnel have been awarded the nation's highest medal of valor.
According to the United States Army, Medals of Honor are "awarded sparingly and are bestowed only to the bravest of the brave; and that courage must be well documented."
Among the ranks of those named the bravest in military history are two Erath County natives recognized for their heroic efforts in Korea and Vietnam.
According to J. Fred Cross, Ph.D., who serves on the American Legion's National Legislative Council and is a member of the local post, Finnis D. McCleery, born in Stephenville on Dec. 25, 1927, and George Andrew Davis, Jr., born in Dublin on Dec. 1, 1920, are believed to be the only Erath County natives who have been bestowed the honor.
March 25 was selected by the United States Congress as the day to highlight the honor because it was on the same date in 1863 that the first medals were presented to six Ohio military men, members of Andrews' Raiders who are credited with the "Great Locomotive Chase," according to www.homeofheroes.com. The men were presented the medals after being released from a confederate P.O.W. camp.
Finnis Dawson McCleery
Unlike Davis, McCleery was alive and living in San Angelo when he received his Medal of Honor.
According to the San Angelo Standard Times, President Richard Nixon penned the medal on McCleery at a White House ceremony in 1971. The city later honored the hero with a Finnis McCleery Day celebration. While McCleery was born in Stephenville, he called San Angelo his homewtown, according to the Standard Times.
In addition to receiving the military's highest honor, McCleery was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Valor and a Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters.
Excerpts from McCleery's citation are as follows:
Platoon Sgt. Finnis Dawson McCleery exercised "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty" while serving as platoon leader of the 1st platoon of Company A (1st Battalion, 6th U.S. Infantry).
A combined force was assigned the mission of assaulting a reinforced company of North Vietnamese Army regulars, well entrenched on Hill 352, seventeen miles west of Tam Ky. McCleery reportedly led his men up the hill and across an open area to confront the enemy. His platoon and others were pinned down by tremendous heavy fire from the fortified enemy positions. Realizing the severe damage the enemy could inflict on the combined force in the event that their attack was completely halted, McCleery rose from his sheltered position and began a one-man assault on the bunker complex. He moved across almost 200 feet of open ground as bullets struck all around him and rockets and grenades exploded at his feet. As he came within 100 feet of the enemy bunker, McCleery fired furiously from the hip and threw hand grenades.
At that point, he was painfully wounded by shrapnel, but continued his advance on the key bunker and killed all of its occupants. Having single-handedly breached the enemy perimeter, he climbed to the top of the bunker he had just captured and, in full view of the enemy, shouted encouragement to his men to follow his assault.
As the friendly forces moved forward, McCleery began a lateral assault on the enemy bunker line, and continued to expose himself to intense enemy fire as he moved from bunker to bunker, destroying each. He was wounded a second time by shrapnel as he destroyed and routed the enemy from the hill.
McCleery is single-handedly credited with eliminating several key enemy positions and inspiring the assault that resulted in gaining control of Hill 352.
According to the Standard Times, after he returned from Vietnam, McCleery left the Army and settled in San Angelo with his wife, Lena, and their seven children. He passed away July 11, 2002 and is buried in San Angelo.
George Andrew Davis, Jr.
Davis was commissioned as a second lieutenant after completing flight training in February 1943, according to the Handbook of Texas Online.
In less than two years, from Aug. 30, 1943-March 23, 1945, Davis completed 266 combat missions and 705 combat flight hours. During that time, he reportedly downed seven enemy aircraft. For his service in World War II, Davis was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with an Oak Leaf Cluster, the Silver Star and the Air Medal with eight Oak Leaf Clusters.
Davis was promoted to major in February 1951 and was sent to Korea eight months later. One year after his promotion, he would die in battle.
The rest as they say, is history.
The following citation was obtained from the United States Army's official Medal of Honor web site. His ranking is listed as Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., U.S. Air Force, CO, 334th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force.
While leading a flight of 4 F-86 Saberjets on a combat aerial patrol mission near the Manchurian border, Maj. Davis' element leader ran out of oxygen and was forced to retire from the flight with his wingman accompanying him.
Davis and the remaining F-86s continued the mission and sighted a formation of approximately 12 enemy MIG-15 aircraft speeding southward toward an area where friendly fighter-bombers were conducting low-level operations against the communist lines of communications.
Davis positioned his two aircraft, then dove at the MIG formation. While speeding through the formation from the rear, he singled out a MIG-15 and destroyed it with a concentrated burst of fire. Although he was now under continuous fire from the enemy fighters to his rear, Davis sustained his attack. He fired at another MIG-15 which, bursting into smoke and flames, went into a vertical dive.
Rather than evade the enemy fire concentrated on him, he elected to reduce his speed and sought out a third MIG-15. His aircraft sustained a direct hit, went out of control, then crashed into a mountain 30 miles south of the Yalu River. Davis' attack completely disrupted the enemy formation, permitting the friendly fighter-bombers to successfully complete their mission.
Davis died in that battle on Feb. 10, 1952 at 31 years old. His body was never recovered.
Davis was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and was promoted to lt. colonel for his final heroic efforts. He also received the Distinguished Service Cross, a second Silver Star, a ninth cluster for his Air Medal, and a third cluster for his Distinguished Flying Cross. His wife, Doris Forgason Davis, received the Medal of Honor from General Nathan Twining at Reese Air Force Base on May 14, 1954. His three children, Mary Margaret, George III, and Charles Lynn, his parents, and Senator Lyndon B. Johnson were also in attendance.
Davis' name is inscribed on the Wall of the Missing at the National Memorial of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. Also, a veteran's memorial was dedicated to him in Lubbock on Nov. 16, 1990; his official Medal of Honor headstone was placed there as a cenotaph by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
To pay homage to the hometown hero, the Dublin Historical Museum has established an exhibit on his efforts and in 2008, the city erected an official Texas Historical Marker next to the Dublin Veterans Memorial on Blackjack Street.