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.
“Are you lost?” I heard a male voice call out from the vehicle which had pulled in and parked behind mine. I was standing at the passenger side of my vehicle, just inside the gates of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Cemetery in Cumberland, Maryland, and was preparing to cross the sacred ground to visit a grave at the edge of the cemetery.
I watched as the driver got out and approached, addressing me by name as he asked again if I was lost. While I had not recognized the voice, I immediately recognized the young gentleman who I had met a couple years before. Although I had not talked to Matt in a while, we quickly caught up before he introduced me to his wife, Jessica.
It was a strange twist of fate that brought us together that day. If I had not missed my exit on Interstate 68, I would not have stopped at the gas station and we would have missed each other by minutes. “When you were pulling out of the gas station I said to Jess, I thought it was you and when you pulled into the cemetery I knew it was you. So what brings you here?” he asked.
“I’m visiting the graves of the two Medal of Honor recipients who are buried in Cumberland,” I replied. “William Shuck rests here and John Hart rests in Saint Luke’s Lutheran on the other side of town.”
“May we join you?” Matt asked and the three of us carefully crossed the sacred grounds to the grave of William E. Shuck, Jr, a local man who was remembered for his sacrifice during the Korean War. We paused at the foot of the black granite slab, which marks his resting place, to remember his bravery.
William Edward Shuck, Jr, was born in Cumberland, Maryland on August 16, 1926 to William and Regina Shuck. Shuck’s childhood was spent in Ridgeley, West Virginia, located just south of Cumberland, and after graduating high school in 1933, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. Shuck served during World War Two, from 1944 to 1946, when he was honorably discharged. On November 14, 1947, Shuck rejoined the military as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.
On January 29, 1952, Shuck arrived in Korea as the squad leader of Company G, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Just six months later, on June 3, 1952, Shuck lost his life. On that date, his platoon was involved in an assault against the enemy’s fortified position. Despite being wounded, Staff Sergeant Shuck found himself leading both his machine gun squad and the squad his unit was supporting after their leader was wounded. Shuck was wounded a second time, but refused to leave his position until all other wounded and dead were removed from the battlefield.
Shuck was in the process of lifting the stretcher to remove the last casualty from the battle site when he was struck by a sniper’s bullet and killed – Shuck was just twenty-six years old. His body would return stateside in September 1952 and was placed to rest in Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Cemetery.
For his actions, Shuck would be posthumously honored with the Medal of Honor, which was presented to his widow on September 9, 1953. The citation for his Medal of Honor reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a squad leader of Company G, in action against enemy aggressor forces. When his platoon was subjected to a devastating barrage of enemy small-arms, grenade, artillery, and mortar fire during an assault against strongly fortified hill positions well forward of the main line of resistance, S/Sgt. Shuck, although painfully wounded, refused medical attention and continued to lead his machine-gun squad in the attack. Unhesitatingly assuming command of a rifle squad when the leader became a casualty, he skillfully organized the two squads into an attacking force and led two more daring assaults upon the hostile positions. Wounded a second time, he steadfastly refused evacuation and remained in the foremost position under heavy fire until assured that all dead and wounded were evacuated. Mortally wounded by an enemy sniper bullet while voluntarily assisting in the removal of the last casualty, S/Sgt. Shuck, by his fortitude and great personal valor in the face of overwhelming odds, served to inspire all who observed him. His unyielding courage throughout reflects the highest credit upon himself and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
Shuck would also be remembered by having a mess hall named after him at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. In the Ridgeley, the members of the Knobley Mountain Post 136 of the American Legion changed the post’s name to the William E. Shuck Memorial Post in honor of the young man who lost his life while saving the wounded around him.
The three of us finished remembering the bravery of the young man before we carefully made our way back to our vehicles. We said our farewells to one another before we drove away, leaving Shuck to rest peacefully within the sacred grounds of Saints Peter and Paul and Catholic Cemetery.
Note: More about the second Medal of Honor Recipient who rests in Cumberland, Maryland can be found here: John Hart.