Valor Friday

| February 4, 2022

US Navy Medal of Honor (1861-1912 version)

As I’ve discussed before, the Medal of Honor was not limited strictly to combat actions for much of its history. From 1861, the Medal of Honor was the only gallantry decoration for members of the US military, though for officers, they could receive brevet promotions. It wasn’t until 1876 that the US Army created (or technically re-created) the Certificate of Merit, an award for meritorious service while the Medal of Honor by regulation was to be a combat-only award. During this time the only award for bravery of all types for the Navy (and by extension the Marine Corps) was the Medal of Honor. While the Army Medal of Honor could be awarded to commissioned officers, the Navy did not award it to officers until a legislative change in 1915. The first naval officers to receive the Medal of Honor were from the 1914 Occupation of Veracruz.

This persisted until World War I when the more familiar, modern awards system started to be fleshed out. Even so, the Navy continued to award the Medal of Honor for non-combat actions. The Army created the Soldier’s Medal in the 1920s to recognize bravery not in the face of the enemy, and that award is considered the non-combat equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross, the award second only in precedence to the Medal of Honor. The Navy followed suit during WWII with their Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

Therefore it wasn’t until World War II that the practice stopped entirely, though the Army had ostensibly never awarded peacetime or non-combat Medals of Honor decades earlier. Despite that policy, the Army awarded two non-combat Medals of Honor. The first was to Major General Adolphus Greely for his “lifetime of service” in 1908. The second was in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh (who was flying as a civilian was a captain in the US Army Air Corps Reserve) was awarded one by special Act of Congress for his solo trans-Atlantic flight.

The Navy meanwhile, between 1861 and 1939 awarded 201 men 205 Medals of Honor for non-combat bravery. Most all of them were in harrowing situations such as boiler explosions or in rescuing men overboard. A final man, Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Francis Hammerberg received the last non-combat Medal of Honor posthumously in 1945.

If you review the numbers I listed, that means there were four men who received two non-combat Medals of Honor. All four were Navy men, and I’ll be exploring their heroics herein today.


Albert Weisbogel was born in 1844 in New Orleans. Not much is available on what he did for work, but he enlisted into the Navy from Louisiana. I cannot find when he enlisted, but he is credited by one official US Navy website as being a recipient of the Civil War Campaign Medal. Which means he would have entered service some time prior to the end of that conflict in 1865.

By January 1874, the 30-year-old Weisbogel was serving aboard USS Benicia, a three-masted steam-powered screw sloop. He was captain of the mizzen top, a senior non-commissioned position.

On 11 January of that year, a Marine aboard ship jumped overboard “in a fit of insanity” and an apparent attempt at suicide. Weisbogel jumped in and was able to rescue the distraught Marine. In the recommendation for a commendation, Weisbogel’s executive officer Lieutenant Commander Joshua Bishop notes that Weisbogel had conducted a similarly gallant feat previously, while serving aboard USS Juniata.

Weisbogel was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics that day. He was presented the medal while a member of USS Plymouth, another screw sloop on 23 March 1876.

Just over a month later, Weisbogel again saved a man from drowning. While USS Plymouth was entering the harbor at Kingston, Jamaica on the morning of 27 April 1876 Landsman Peter Kenny (landsman being both the rank and title for a non-rated new Navy enlistee at the time) fell overboard.

Weisbogel again jumped overboard and helped to rescue the man. He received his second Medal of Honor for this additional act of valor. He became the first man to receive two Medals of Honor where both awards were made for non-combat bravery.

As with Weisbogel’s life before the Navy, I can’t find anything on what he did after, or even that he left the Navy at all. Though a lack of campaign medals on that Navy site for any later conflicts would indicate he left or retired from the service prior to the Spanish-American War. In any case, Weisbogel died in 1919 at age 74. He was living in Brooklyn, New York and is buried there.


Robert Sweeney was born on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. He enlisted into the US Navy from New Jersey sometime prior to 1881.

With the rank of ordinary seaman, Sweeney was aboard USS Kearsarge. It was at about 1700 hours on the 26th of October 1881, while at anchor in Hampton Roads, Virginia that one of the ship’s seamen, E.M. Christoverson, fell overboard.

Christoverson had been on the lower boom Jacob’s ladder (the rope ladders you see on ships) when he fell. The water into which he fell had a strong tide and considerable waves. Not knowing how to swim, he immediately started to go under.

Sweeney leapt into the water without hesitation to save his shipmate. As he grabbed onto Christoverson, the drowning man pulled him under. Sweeney disengaged from him, but immediately returned to attempt another rescue. He again was carried under the water by the panicked and dying Christoverson.

Cadet Midshipman John Baptiste Bernadon then jumped in to help Sweeney recover Christoverson. By now fellow sailors had thrown a line overboard. Sweeney and Bernadon were then able to get the struggling sailor back aboard, safe and sound.

Sweeney was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism. Since it wasn’t until 1915 that the Navy Medal of Honor was opened to officers, Bernadon was commended with the same forceful language as Sweeney, but received only the written commendation. Bernadon would continue his service until 1908, serving with distinction during the Spanish-American War (he was cited 10 times for gallantry in action), and retiring with the rank of commander. He also created a formulation for smokeless gun powder that both the Navy and Army used and DuPont bought the patent for.

Two years later, while serving aboard USS Yantic on 20 December 1883, he was again spurred into selfless action. While at dock in Brooklyn Navy Yard, USS Kearsarge shifted position and came alongside USS Yantic.

While the two ships were tied together, one of the men from USS Kearsarge, A.A. George, fell off a plank between the two ships at about 1615 hours. Again, Sweeney showed no hesitation in aiding a shipmate and jumped in. With the assistance of another ordinary seaman from Kearsarge, J.W. Norris, they effected a successful rescue of the floundering sailor.

According to Yantic’s log, George “would have probably drown[ed], if it had not been for the prompt action on the part of R. A. Sweeney (O. Sea) of this vessel, and one of the Jamestown’s crew (J. W. Norris), who jumped overboard to his assistance.”

Sweeney received his second Medal of Honor, the only black man to ever receive two. Norris similarly received the Medal of Honor for his part in the rescue.

It’s unclear what Sweeney did after leaving the Naval Service, but he left sometime around 1884. Unfortunately he died young. He died in 1890 at age 37 in Queens, New York. His gravestone lists only his last name. There is no mention of his military service or incredible record of individual bravery.


Born Ludwig Andreas Olsen in Oslo, Norway, he made his way to the United States and went by the name Louis Williams thereafter. He was in California in 1870 when he enlisted into the Navy about age 25.

Through his service Williams rose to the senior enlisted rank of captain of the hold, a position of trust and responsibility that placed him in charge of the ship’s cargo. He was stationed aboard USS Lackawanna in 1883.

On 16 March of that year, while the ship was in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, Williams jumped in after one of his comrades fell overboard. Through his gallant act, he saved Landsman Thomas Moran from drowning.

While still with Lackawanna, Williams again jumped in after a wayward sailor who ended up wetter than anticipated. This time at Callao Peru, 13 June 1884, Williams and Ordinary Seaman Isaac Fasser rescued from drowning shipmate William Cruise.

Williams received two Medals of Honor, one for each rescue. Interestingly, both acts were cited under the same General Order No. 326, dated 18 October 1884. This means he simultaneously received two Medals of Honor for two different acts. For his part, Fasser also received the Medal of Honor.

Unfortunately, Williams too died young. He was only about age 40 when he passed away in 1886. He’s buried in Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Chief Water Tender John King


Our last dual recipient for peacetime actions is John King. Born in Ireland in County Galway. He found his way to the US after earning passage while allegedly on the run from the Royal Irish Constabulary. He arrived in the US in 1886.

Once in the US, King enlisted into the US Navy as a coal passer in Vermont in 1893. He saw wartime service aboard the battleship USS Massachusetts (BB-2) during the Spanish-American War, earning the Sampson medal. In 1900 he was transferred to USS Vicksburg (PG-11) and saw wartime service again in support of US Army operations during the Philippine-American War.

During these years, King was promoted to fireman, oiler, and then water tender. These jobs all dealt with the ship’s boiler system. The steam boiler of a ship was the heart of the ship, but it was prone to failing. Steam, for those who haven’t worked with it, has a lot of power. If that power is not contained, it will quickly and violently explode. The results of such an explosion will tear a ship apart from the inside. What’s left of the vessel usually goes down in flames shortly thereafter.

While aboard Vicksburg and with the position and rank of water tender, on 29 May 1901, John King first distinguished himself by exemplary bravery in the line of duty. Near Port Isabella during the Philippine-American War, one of Vicksburg’s boilers exploded.

Instead of running away from the danger, King ran into it. He closed the valve for the main stop and then smothered the flames with blankets and towels. This prevented a much larger disaster from occurring. For this, King received the Medal of Honor. Eight years later, while aboard USS Salem, King did it again.

On 13 September 1909 one of Salem’s boilers exploded. As the compartment filled with scalding steam, 12 men within were at immediate risk of being boiled alive.

Again King ran into the danger. He was scalded all along his arms after he braved the steam to turn on the compartment’s blowers at full speed. This dissipated the steam, saving the other men. Aside from King, none of the other men were injured. King remained at his post until the engineering watch officer saw his injuries and ordered him to sick bay.

King received his second Medal of Honor in December of that year. By that time he’d been promoted to chief water tender, the highest enlisted grade at the time.

Amazingly, King was still not a US citizen. He was naturalized in 1912. He retired from the Navy in 1916 and returned to Ireland. There he married Delia McKenna.

Two days after the US entered World War I, Chief King was recalled to active duty. He served this second period of active duty from 6 April 1917 to 20 August 1919. After his third war, King returned with his wife to Ireland in 1921. After Delia’s death in 1936 he again made his way to the US.

King lived at the Naval Home in Philadelphia. In February 1937 he tripped over an iron bench, breaking his leg. He was sent to the Army-Navy General Hospital in Hot Springs Arkansas. Unfortunately he contracted pneumonia and died from that in May 1937 at age 83. He is buried in the Hot Spring’s Hollywood Cemetery.

Category: Historical, Medal of Honor, Navy, Valor, We Remember

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Thank You again, Mason, for sharing!

On ALBERT WEISBOGEL: Research from New York Navy records indicate he had dark hair, blue eyes and was only 4’11”. His parents were from Germany.

We believe his initial enlistment in the US Navy was 13 January 1869. He re-enlisted on 16 August 1872; March 1879, where his records indicated he already served 10 years in the Navy: July 1882 with the Colorado; March 1886 where he was a “Cox” and 12 July 1889. The 1900 NY census listed him as Single and as a Boarder with occupation as “Gunnery Mate”. 1910 census still had him Single with no occupation. Am speculating he served 30 years. He was involved with various Veterans organuzations in the 1900s until his death in 1919. There are also records of him returning from Panama. Hope this helps.



Additionally, his obituary listed him as a Retired Chief Boatswain Mate and most likely, he passed away at the same boarding house located at 32 North Elliot Place in Brooklyn, New York.



On Robert Augustus Sweeney:

We located one of his Navy Medical/Hospital records. It looks as if in August 1888, he was transferred from a ship or port in Panama, Florida to a Navy Hospital in New York suffering from contusions to his lower body parts (buttocks? thighs?). He was hit with a butt of a musket. His health was deemed poor and he also suffered from intestinal problems. The notes on his hospital records were hard to read, but it looks as if he recovered and returned to duty.


Military records for Robert Augustus Sweeney indicate he was discharged in November 1885 and reenlisted in December 1885.

While stationed in Norfolk, Virginia in 1878, he was hospitalized and successfully treated for Syphillis (he got in while not in the line of duty). He was discharged and continued his service.


According to the 5 February 1884 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, both Robert Augustus Sweeney and J.A. Norris, a Landman were sent a Bronze Medal from the Secretary of the Navy for rescuing A.A. George. Commander Upahur presented Sweeney and Norris with prizes.


Outstanding write up, Mason! Thanks, again, for bringing us the stories of these Heros. “…that such men lived…”



Louis Williams Gave site with Headstone:

Rest In Peace. Salute.


Reference John King:

“The U.S. Navy honored John King by naming the USS John King (DDG-3), a guided missile destroyer, after him. The USS John King was commissioned on February 4, 1961, and decommissioned on March 30, 1990.”



ninja, Thank you so much for bringing us “the rest of the story” on these men.

We DO have the very BEST ninjas! 😎 😉 😀



Outstanding data! Still amazed at the bravery of extraordinary men.
Thanks you, gentlemen!


Many don’t realize that at one time the MoH was given for peacetime acts. Another example was Admiral Richard Byrd; he received the MoH for flying over the North Pole, a feat previously thought impossible. At some point in the late 30s or early 40s Congress changed the rules to only allow MoH awards for actions in front of an enemy.


Great work once again, Mason. Thanks.