The Medal of Honor belonging to Duluth native and World War II hero Maj. Henry Courtney will be installed in Veterans Memorial Hall on May 29 - concluding a four-year saga to bring the medal home to Duluth.
"It's heartwarming and gratifying to know the people in his hometown will get to see and know what a wonderful person he was," said Court Storey, a Courtney nephew from the Twin Cities and one of the people who advocated for the medal's return to Duluth from safe storage in Pennsylvania.
The Medal of Honor is the country's highest military gallantry award. Courtney's was received posthumously in 1947. 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 died during the fighting and his parents, Henry Sr. and Florence, accepted the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman in 1947. Storey recalled it as a bittersweet time for the family.
"It was a situation in which they lost a son and got a medal," Storey said. "My grandmother, in particular, was heartbroken and angry."
Courtney had been an up-and-coming lawyer in Duluth at the time of his death. Following his stateside recovery from malaria, Courtney volunteered to return to service despite having achieved his commitment - ultimately serving in both the European and Asiatic-Pacific war theaters.
"He could have stayed, but said he wanted to go back to help the younger kids survive," Alan Anderson said. "He was sent back with the 6th Marine Division - it had never seen any combat and was a brand-new division."
Anderson is an attorney from Shoreview, Minn. with a doctoral degree in war studies. He'll speak at the 2-3:30 p.m. installation ceremony May 29 in the rotunda of the Duluth Depot - home to Veterans Memorial Hall.
Courtney's Medal of Honor has been entrusted to the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge (Penn.) since 1980. The St. Louis County Historical Society, along with the Courtney family, had sought a long-term loan of the medal since 2015, when the Freedoms Foundation first declined a request.
After years of back and forth, terms of a loan were agreed upon earlier this year. The Courtney Medal of Honor will replace a replica medal now on display in Veterans Memorial Hall's Medal of Honor Row, which honors the seven Northland soldiers who have received the medal. Fewer than 4,000 soldiers have been recipients of the Medal of Honor in the United States' 242-year history.
In addition to the installation ceremony later this month, there will be a dinner program Nov. 15 at the Depot Great Hall. The event will honor Courtney and the other Medal of Honor recipients - 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 onetime resident of Ashland, and Dale Wayrynen, who was born in Moose Lake.
The May 29 installation ceremony will conclude with a free public reception. Space for the event is limited and guests are encouraged to call the Depot at 218-733-7568 to reserve seating.