The Medal of Honor symbolizes the ideals of patriotism, courage, sacrifice, and integrity and is the highest award presented for military valor in action. Those recipients have shown bravery in combat, going above and beyond the call of duty, risking – and often sacrificing – their lives for the welfare of others.
First introduced for the Department of the Navy in 1861, the Medal of Honor would be created for the Department of the Army’s Medal of Honor in 1862. The Department of the Air Force, which originally used the same Medal as the Department of the Army, introduced their own Medal of Honor in 1965. Since its inception during the U.S. Civil War, more than 3500 recipients have been honored with the Medal of Honor.
This is the story of a Medal of Honor recipient.
As I turned onto Lower Greens Run Road, Schenk’s Cemetery immediately came into view. I entered the sacred grounds and drove back the the main roadway. Schenk’s Cemetery is completely surrounded by Bald Eagle State Park and the present cemetery has its own unique history. The cemetery, as it is presently, was a creation of the Blanchard Dam project of the 1960s. Not only was this cemetery a creation of the flood control project, it was created from four different cemeteries which were all moved to this peaceful location – Schenk’s, Rupert, Neff, and part of Sand Hill, all make up the current cemetery.
At the second intersection, I pulled to the side of the roadway and walked to the monument which stood on one corner. The brick pillar is topped with a military marker and just behind it is the tombstone for a local man who died during World War Two. The bravery and heroic actions of Foster Sayers would be recognized with the Medal of Honor.
Foster Joseph Sayers was born April 27, 1924 in Marsh Creek, Centre County and grew up in the Howard area. He was working for Piper Aircraft Corporation when called into service in May 1943. Sayers entered the US Army, serving as Private First Class with Company L, 357 Infantry, 90 Infantry Division.
On November 12, 1944, his unit had engaged the Nazi Army near Thionville, France. It was here that Sayers would sacrifice his life to allow his unit to successfully advance upon the enemy.
As his unit approached a heavily fortified hill, Sayers set out to flank the enemy forces. He made his way up the steep hillside and set up his machine gun roughly twenty yards from the German entrenchment. In the process of setting up his position, Sayers realized his unit would be crossing an area in the line of fire from the enemy within the entrenchment. Sayers took action. He picked up his machine gun and charged the enemy position, braving the gun fire around him.
Arriving at the edge of the entrenchment, Sayers opened fire, killing the twelve Germans located there. Sayers took shelter and continued to fire on other enemy positions to draw their attention away from his unit. Sayers would be killed by enemy fire, but his sacrifice allowed his unit to take the hill with few casualties.
Foster Sayers was just twenty years old and left behind a wife and young son. He was initially buried in France, but five years after his death, his body was returned to Howard and buried in Schenk’s Cemetery.
Sayers would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor, which was presented to his family in October 1945. The citation for his Medal reads: “He displayed conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in combat on 12 November 1944, near Thionville, France. During an attack on strong hostile forces entrenched on a hill he fearlessly ran up the steep approach toward his objective and set up his machinegun 20 yards from the enemy. Realizing it would be necessary to attract full attention of the dug-in Germans while his company crossed an open area and flanked the enemy, he picked up his gun, charged through withering machine gun and rifle fire to the very edge of the emplacement, and there killed 12 German soldiers with devastating close-range fire. He took up a position behind a log and engaged the hostile infantry from the flank in a heroic attempt to distract their attention while his comrades attained their objective at the crest of the hill. He was killed by the very heavy concentration of return fire; but his fearless assault enabled his company to sweep the hill with minimum of casualties, killing or capturing every enemy soldier on it. Pfc. Sayers’ indomitable fighting spirit, aggressiveness, and supreme devotion to duty live on as an example of the highest traditions of the military service.”
In addition to the Medal of Honor, Sayers received numerous awards and honors, including the World War Two Victory Medal, the Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star. Locally, Foster Sayers would be honored when the Blanchard dam was named Foster Sayers Dam and the lake created was named Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir.
As I finished paying my respects to the local hero who sacrificed himself for the lives of his unit, I took a moment to scan the peaceful surroundings. Unlike many Medal of Honor recipients, whose actions have been forgotten by most, I knew the bravery of Foster Joseph Sayers will always be remembered by those visiting the lake named in his honor.