Freddie Stowers – Corporal, United States Army

Corporal Freddie Stowers, 21, was from Sandy Springs, South Carolina. On September 28, 1918, just six weeks before the end of World War I,  Stowers was killed as he led a squad from the all-black 371st Infantry Regiment into no-man’s land in France and defeated German troops. His commanding officer recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but the nomination languished for 70 years – “misplaced,” the Army said. In 1988, after two congressmen resurrected the case, President George Bush awarded the medal posthumously to Stowers’ two surviving sisters.

Remarks at a Ceremony for the Posthumous
Presentation of the Medal of Honor to Corporal Freddie Stowers 
April 24, 1991

President Bush: Welcome to the White House. I salute the Vice President and Mrs. Quayle, and Secretary Cheney, other members of our Cabinet, General Vuono, distinguished Members of Congress who are with us today, and former Congressman Joe DioGuardi. I’m especially glad Joe’s with us here today. To the former Medal of Honor recipients, I salute each and every one of you. To Georgiana Palmer and Mary Bowens — the sisters of today’s honoree are with us, and don’t they look lovely. We are just delighted.

And a note of more than trivial passing: the honoree’s great-grandnephew, Staff Sergeant Douglas Warren, of the 101st Airborne — he returned — he looks a little jet-lagged to me, but he returned just last night from Saudi Arabia. And I want to welcome you home.

And we also — to do equal time to the Air Force, why, we salute you, Mr. Stowers, also back here. He’s at Langley.

So, it’s a lovely day here, and we welcome each and every one of you to the White House. We want to honor a true hero, a man who makes us proud of our heritage as Americans, a man who, in life and death, helped keep America free. I speak of Corporal Freddie Stowers, to whom posthumously we present our highest military award for valor: the Medal of Honor. It’s an award for bravery and conscience, the compendium we call character.

Today, Corporal Freddie Stowers becomes the first black soldier honored with the Medal of Honor from World War I. He sought and helped achieve the triumph of right over wrong. He showed, as this year has proved again, that an inspired human heart can surmount bayonets and barbed wire.

Seventy-three years ago, the Corporal first was recommended for a Medal of Honor, but his award was not acted upon. In 1987, then-Congressman Joe DioGuardi and my friend the late Mickey Leland, known to many here, from Houston, discovered the Stowers case while conducting other research. And the Army took up the case. And last November, the Secretaries of the Army and Defense recommended that Corporal Stowers receive the Medal of Honor. I heard his story, accepted their recommendation enthusiastically.

It’s been said that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge. On September 28th, 1918, Corporal Freddie Stowers stood poised on the edge of such a challenge and summoned his mettle and his courage.

He and the men of Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, began their attack on Hill 188 in the Champagne Marne Sector of France. Only a few minutes after the fighting began, the enemy stopped firing and enemy troops climbed out of their trenches onto the parapets of the trench, held up their arms and seemed to surrender. The relieved American forces held their fire, stepped out into the open. As our troops moved forward, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and sprayed our men with a vicious stream of machine gun and mortar fire. The assault annihilated well over 50 percent of Company C.

And in the midst of this bloody chaos, Corporal Stowers took charge and bravely led his men forward, destroying their foes. Although he was mortally wounded during the attack, Freddie Stowers continued to press forward urging his men on until he died.

On that September day, Corporal Stowers was alone, far from family and home. He had to be scared; his friends died at his side. But he vanquished his fear and fought not for glory but for a cause larger than himself: the cause of liberty.

Today, as we pay tribute to this great soldier, our thoughts continue to be with the men and women of all our wars who valiantly carried the banner of freedom into battle. They, too, know America would not be the land of the free, if it were not also the home of the brave.

The soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coastguardsmen of Desert Storm — a group that includes Staff Sergeant Warren — all these valiant Americans are heirs to the legacy of Corporal Stowers and the men of Company C. No nation could be more proud of its sons and daughters than we are of them.

Today, we celebrate their achievements, but we also heed these words echoing over the centuries: Only the dead have seen the end of war. We owe it to Freddie Stowers and those who revere his legacy to defend the principles for which he died and for which our great country stands.

In that spirit, I am honored to welcome two of his sisters — Georgiana Palmer, of
Richmond, California, and Mary Bowens, of Greenville, South Carolina. They will accept the award on behalf of their late brother, the text of which I will now ask Sergeant Major Byrne to read the citation.

[At this point, the citation was read.]

I think that concludes the service, but I’d like to ask the Vice President and Secretary of Defense and General Vuono and General Powell to come up and thank our recipients. And maybe the other members of the Joint Chiefs would join us. I think it would be most appropriate.

Note: The President spoke at 3:08 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife, Marilyn; Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney; General Carl E. Vuono, Army Chief of Staff; former Representatives Joseph J. DioGuardi and Mickey Leland; Georgiana Palmer and Mary Bowen, sisters of Corporal Stowers, and S. Sgt. Douglas Warren and T. Sgt. Odis Stowers, his great-grandnephews; Secretary of the Army Michael P.W. Stone; Sean Byrne, Army Aide to the President; and General Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Medal of Honor Citation:

Corporal Stowers, a native of Anderson County, South Carolina, distinguished himself by exceptional heroism on 28 September 1918, while serving as a squad leader in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division. His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and to come out into the open. As the company started forward and when within about 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers were killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity, Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although, Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties. Corporal Stowers’ conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism and supreme devotion to his men were well above and beyond the call of duty, follow the finest traditions of military service and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army.

(The Medal of Honor was presented to Stowers’ surviving sisters during ceremonies at the White House on April 24, 1991.) 

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