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The E-Sylum (8/29/2010)

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The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an article this week about a local family that's lending a rare Medal of Honor for display. -Editor

Sgt. John Kirkwood, a Pittsburgh native, boosted military morale by rescuing a fellow officer after the Army's 3rd Cavalry attacked an Indian village in Slim Buttes in the northwest corner of South Dakota.

On Sept. 9, 1876, during a pre-dawn raid on 35 Indian lodges, Sgt. Kirkwood saved Lt. Adolphus H. Von Luettwitz, who was wounded in the kneecap and fell from his horse.

As arrows flew and guns blazed, the 25-year-old sergeant carried his injured lieutenant from the battlefield to safety atop a ridge. With the help of another soldier, Sgt. Kirkwood attacked and drove Sioux Indians from their hiding place in a ravine.

Kirkwood Indian War Medal of Honor

Betty Willey, 84, of Asbury Villas in Mt. Lebanon, relived her uncle's military career when she took a field trip in April to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. By chance, she rode in her wheelchair up to a poster recounting Sgt. Kirkwood's bravery, for which he received the Medal of Honor -- the nation's highest military award for valor against an enemy.

After she casually mentioned the outing, her niece and nephew -- siblings Melinda and Don Willey -- visited Michael Kraus, the museum's curator, to see for themselves what was on public view about the man who figured in their extended family's lore. Those visits have prompted Sgt. Kirkwood's descendants to permit his medal and other relics of his service to be included in a new exhibit planned for the museum.

"You would have thought the guy had won the lottery," Melinda Willey said of the earlier meeting with Mr. Kraus. "He took us and showed us the display. We realized, at that point, that we had something very valuable and very pertinent to Pittsburgh history."

The Willeys are donating Sgt. Kirkwood's Medal of Honor to the memorial because he was born in the region and already is included in the museum's Hall of Valor.

"This medal is so rare. It's the top dog," Mr. Kraus said, adding that few of them were awarded during the Indian Wars. It is illegal to buy or sell Medals of Honor.

"Its monetary value is zero. Its historic value is huge," Mr. Kraus said.

To read the complete article, see: Local soldier's rare Medal of Honor set for museum display (

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