The Medal of Honor given posthumously to Duluth native Maj. Henry Courtney for his heroism in World War II is coming home.
The board of directors for the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, which has been entrusted with the medal since 1980, voted unanimously on Tuesday to loan the medal to the St. Louis County Historical Society.
“We’re delighted about it as a family,” said Court Storey, a Courtney nephew who lives in the Twin Cities. “He was born, raised and buried in Duluth, and now we’ll have his Medal of Honor there as a memento to his service. I take my hat off to the Freedoms Foundation for being willing to reconsider.”
The Freedoms Foundation has previously denied a 2015 request from the family and historical society.
Details of the loan will be worked out in the days ahead, said Joanne Coombe, executive director of the historical society.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Coombe said. “The Freedoms Foundation did the right thing.”
The Freedoms Foundation announced the agreement on its website by saying it had “agreed in principle to loan the Henry A. Courtney, Jr. Medal of Honor to the St. Louis County Historical Society subject to an agreement to be established between our two institutions.”
The Medal of Honor will be displayed in the Veterans’ Memorial Hall inside the Duluth Depot, replacing a replica of the medal installed last year following a $70,000 renovation to the hall. The renovation included added security for precious artifacts - a critical detail in the reconsideration of a loan.
Coombe and Storey described the pending agreement as a “perpetual loan,” which would be renewed on an annual or even semiannual basis. The medal would be returned to Freedoms Foundation if something eventful were to happen to the historical society, Depot or Veterans’ Memorial Hall.
Using the phrase, “All right men, follow me,” Courtney led a surprise attack against a Japanese stronghold during the Battle of Okinawa in May 1945. The maneuver was credited with pre-empting an even bloodier battle than the one that ensued.
Courtney, an attorney like his father, held an abiding respect for military service and pursued a career in the Marines despite the promise of his civilian life. In the midst of WWII, he turned down a stateside instructor assignment in order to return to fierce war settings in the South Pacific.
Courtney’s Medal of Honor was donated to Freedoms Foundation by his oldest sister, Elizabeth Courtney Bean, in 1980. She had developed a friendship with a Freedoms Foundation archivist at the time, Maria Veronica, who dedicated the later part of her career to telling the stories of Medal of Honor recipients, said a Freedoms Foundation news release on Tuesday.
Medals entrusted to the Foundation are used in educational programs for students and teachers who come to the campus outside Philadelphia. The foundation generally does not loan its artifacts.
“The family had perfectly reasonable request and the board had a perfectly reasonable position,” said Freedoms Foundation spokesperson Kevin Ferris. “It was a matter of finding out where the common ground was to make something happen.”
Courtney is buried in Duluth’s Calvary Cemetery. He is one of seven Northland soldiers to have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military award. Fewer than 4,000 have been awarded in the United States’ 242-year history. The other local recipients are Mike Colalillo of Duluth, Richard Bong of Poplar, Douglas MacArthur, who entered the military in Ashland, Oscar Nelson, who settled in Duluth after his military career, Clayton Slack, a one-time resident of Ashland, and Dale Wayrynen, who was born in Moose Lake.