Medal of Honor Spotlight: Smedley Butler

  • Jack Collins

Memorial Day falls on May 30th this year. To commemorate it, we’re going to profile one of the most decorated Medal of Honor recipients ever.

Major General Smedley Butler is a larger-than-life figure. On one hand, he helped shape the Marine Corps into what it is today. On the other, he became disenfranchised with the military as a political tool later in life. He wrote extensively on the topic in his book War is a Racket.

But everything else aside, there’s one irrefutable fact about Smedley Butler: he’s one of the most decorated Marines in American history. In fact, he’s one of only two Marines to receive two Medals of Honor for “outstanding acts of heroism.”

First Medal of Honor: Vera Cruz

On April 22, 1914, Butler earned his first Medal of Honor during action in Vera Cruz, Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. As a Major, he led the men of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Advanced Base Regiment through fierce urban combat.

According to his first citation, Butler exhibited “courage and skill” throughout the engagement. During combat, he braved sniper fire and street fighting while leading his men from house to house. He and his men eventually overcame the remaining resistance in the city, neutralizing it. 

Second Medal of Honor: Haiti

Butler cheering on the Marines during a Marines vs American Legion football game in 1930. (Photo Courtesy of USMC Archives)

Butler earned his second Medal of Honor during action in Haiti as a Major. According to his second citation, Butler led an attack on Fort Riviere on November 17, 1915. Caco bandits held the fort, and the Marines needed to take it to secure their position on the island.

Butler led the forces of the Fifth, Thirteenth, and Twenty-Third companies of the Marine and Sailor detachments and directed them through a breach in the fort’s wall. After engaging in brutal hand-to-hand fighting, the Marines and Sailors “crushed” the Caco opposition. Butler received his second Medal of Honor for “conspicuous… bravery and forceful leadership.”

Want to read more about some other Medal of Honor recipients? Click here to learn more about SSG. Hiroshi Miyamura.

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