Top 50 Hokies Spotlight: Medal of Honor Recipients
The history of Virginia Tech is heavily intertwined with military service. “Ut Prosim” is lived out perhaps most valiantly in a decision to join the service of the United States Armed Forces and represent our great university at the same time. Millions of men and women have served our country throughout its history; however, roughly 3,500 individuals have received the Medal of Honor distinction. Seven proud Virginia Tech alumni have received this award due to their various displays of valor, selflessness, leadership and service. They are memorialized above War Memorial Chapel with their names carved in the Cenotaph. It is well known throughout the Virginia Tech community that, out of respect, individuals should not touch this monument. These seven men are connected by their alumni status and each of their unique stories. It would be impossible to compile a list of the top 50 Hokies without including these men. For the sake of the numbers we will compile them together as a unit for today’s entry of the Top 50.
Antoine August Michael Gaujot
Antoine graduated from Virginia Tech in the class of 1900. Antoine received the Medal of Honor for actions take on December 19, 1899 during the Battle of Paye in the Philippine-American War. It is reported that under heavy enemy fire he made courageous and continuous efforts to obtain a canoe for his men to cross a nearby river to attack the enemy. He then swam across a river in hopes to attain that canoe they spotted. He was awarded the distinction 12 years after the actions taken that day. He served later in World War I in France. He passed away after a life of service to our country in West Virginia in 1936.
Julien Edmund Victor Gaujot
Julien and his brother Antoine are one of five sets of brothers to have been awarded the Medal of Honor and the only brothers who received the distinction for two separate actions. Julien received the Medal of Honor after his brother and was reportedly envious of his brother’s achievement and was determined to also obtain the same honor. He earned his medal near the Mexican border on April 13, 1911 in a peacekeeping gesture. A group of Mexican rebels and government troops were engaged in a heavy fire battle in Douglas, Arizona. Julien rode his horse right through the eye of this battle and negotiated surrender for the safe passage of Mexican Government soldiers and American prisoners over the border into the United States. With this gesture he saved over 25 lives. Julien served from 1897-1934 including service in World War I. He passed away in West Virginia in 1938.
Earle Davis Gregory
Earle graduated from Virginia Tech in 1923. He received his Medal of Honor during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in World War I and he is widely considered to be the first Virginian to receive the award. On October 18, 1918 Earle advanced first to a trench-mortar shell of the enemy and proceeded to capture an enemy machine gun and three individuals. He advanced further to an enemy high ground firing area and single-handedly captured another 19 enemy soldiers. All of this was achieved under heavy enemy fire. He was also awarded many French honors for his actions during this offensive. He passed away in 1972 in his home in Alabama.
Herbert Joseph Thomas
Herbert actually went to Virginia Tech on a football scholarship and in his senior year led all Virginian college players in scoring on the gridiron. Thomas was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions at the battle of Koromokina Lagoon on November 7, 1943. Herbert led his men through heavy Japanese fire until they reached a position in the center of the Japanese force. They were able to dismantle two machine guns will in this position. Seeing a third machine gun more difficult to approach, Herbert attempted to throw a grenade to destroy this last machine gun. The grenade bounced off the above vine and landed in the middle of his men. Herbert quickly sacrificed his body by jumping on the grenade successfully shielding his men from injury but losing his life due to this act. His men then subsequently charged and dismantled the last machine gun fueled by Herbert’s brave and ultimate action.
Jimmie Watters Monteith Jr.
Jimmie attended Virginia Tech from 1937-1939. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously as well for his actions of D-Day June 6, 1944 in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Under obvious heavy gunfire from enemies above he showed extreme composure and valor by organizing men for further assault. He then retraced his steps to find two friendly tanks surrounded and under intense enemy fire.
He led these tanks on foot through a minefield to firing position where they took out multiple enemy strongholds. He then rejoined his company and gained advantageous high ground where he again risked his life multiple times by running into the open reportedly 200-300 yards through enemy fire to strengthen forces. The enemy eventually succeeded in surrounding him and his troops and he lost his life on D-Day. Monteith Hall on the campus was named in honor of him due to his heroic actions on this day.
Robert Edward Femoyer
Robert attended Virginia Tech from 1940 to 1943. He received the Medal of Honor for actions in Merseburg, Germany on November 2, 1944. Femoyer was the navigator of a bomber that was struck with three enemy shells. The plane endured serious carnage and Femoyer himself was injured severely by the shells taking penetrating wounds in his side and back. He was not able to rise from the floor but he asked to be propped up to see charts and instruments to attempt to guide the bomber out of danger and save his men. He refused a pain killer injection to keep his mental faculties about him. He expertly guided his bomber back safely through strong enemy fire. He passed away shortly after being removed from the plane due to his injuries sustained. Femoyer Hall in Blacksburg, Va is named for him as well.
Richard Thomas Shea
Richard left Virginia Tech in 1944 as well to fight in World War II. After World War II he came back and went to West Point where he was a decorated track star. He received the Medal of Honor due to actions at Pork Chop Hill in Korea in July of 1953. During an attack where his men were heavily outnumbered, Shea proceeded to the area of most intense combat and organized his men to counterattack. Over 18 hours of fighting ensued and he bolstered his forces seamlessly with members of other companies. Multiple counterattacks by the enemy were undertaken and Shea was wounded but refused to stop his assault. When his squad was pinned down with machine gun fire, Shea rushed the enemy and disabled the gun with impressive accuracy of his carbine and grenades. He was last seen in close combat with the enemy during this assault. His leadership and resiliency shined through and earned him the Medal of Honor for these actions.