Memorial planned for Minnesota’s Medal of Honor recipients

NEW ULM, Minn. (AP) — Sue Marti, of New Ulm, grew up knowing when her family gathered at the dinner table to retell stories about loved ones, any mention of Willibald Charles Bianchi would be postscripted by a description of his heroism during World War II.

“Uncle Bill was a Medal of Honor recipient. Mom was sure to include that when she talked about her brother.”

Bianchi was awarded the Medal of Honor March 5, 1942. A New Ulm native, he served in the Army for the 45th Infantry Regiment and as a member of the Philippine Scouts Division.

Feb. 3, 1942, during a battle near Bagac in the province of Bataan, Bianchi suffered hand and chest wounds. Those injuries didn’t stop him from volunteering to lead part of another company’s rifle platoon ordered to wipe out two enemy machine-gun nests.

Bianchi used grenades to single-handedly take out one nest, then jumped aboard an American tank and manned an anti-aircraft machine gun. He fired into the strongly held enemy position until he was knocked off the tank.

Two months later, Bianchi was among troops captured by the Japanese at the fall of Bataan. After enduring the Bataan Death March, he was imprisoned in several Japanese prisoner of war camps.

Jan. 9, 1945, while being transported below deck aboard an unmarked Japanese prison ship, Bianchi was killed when an American plane dropped a bomb in the cargo hold.

The Mankato Free Press reports that Bianchi is one of three members of the Philippine Scouts awarded the Medal of Honor. Marti’s grandmother, Caroline (Eibner) Bianchi, traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive her son’s honor.

Marti said her grandmother, after the war, received letters from Bianchi’s fellow prisoners describing how he’d bartered with their captors for extra food and medicine.

“They said he saved their lives.”

Marti, her three sisters and three brothers, never met their courageous uncle, who was 29 when he died.

Bianchi’s name appears on some veterans memorials and his family has traveled to see a sculpture in his honor on the campus of South Dakota State University in Brookings, his alma mater. Some members have visited his grave marker at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Honolulu.

Representatives of his family tree, including Marti, went to St. Paul in October to attend an unveiling ceremony for a proposed memorial honoring the state’s 72 medal of honor recipients.

Bianchi was a hero to his family, even before his military service. Marti said her Uncle Bill, after his father died, took on responsibilities of providing for his family.

John Kraemer of Stillwater, a member of the committee overseeing efforts for the proposed memorial, has met recipients of the medal of honor. Character traits such as courage, commitment and integrity have been evident in all of those veterans, he said.

President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and medal recipient Tom Kelley joined Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito and other Minnesota military leaders for the official groundbreaking. The event featured a flyover of both modern and vintage aircraft and recognition of the descendants of the Medal of Honor recipients with ties to Minnesota.

The state’s Medal of Honor Memorial was approved by the 2016 Minnesota Legislature to be constructed at the main entrance to the State Capitol grounds. The memorial will be in prominent view of the Capitol, centrally located on the mall, adjacent to and within view of the war and veteran commemorations and the military Court of Honor.

The proposed memorial honors medal recipients who were born in Minnesota, buried in the state, enlisted in Minnesota or who died in Minnesota after their military service.

Other recipients with ties to the area were members of a group of soldiers dubbed the Corn Crib Party, who were issued medals Sept. 11, 1897. The detachment of 16 men defended a supply wagon train against the attack of 125 Confederate cavalry men at Nolensville, Tennessee. The Union soldiers repulsed the attack and saved the supplies.

Corn Crib Party members included:

• Cpl. Milton Hanna, who was born in Ohio and attended schools in Blue Earth County. He enlisted as a private in Company H, 2nd Minnesota Infantry on June 22, 1861, at Henderson.

• 1st Sgt. Lovilo N. Holmes, a New York native who entered military service at Mankato.

Holmes and Hanna both are buried at Mankato.

• Cpl. William A. Clark, who arrived in Amboy as a railroad worker. He is buried in Hebron Cemetery in Nicollet County

• Joseph Burger, who was born in Austria, was a 14-year-old private in Company H during the incident at Nolensville. He enlisted at Lake Crystal in February 1863.

• Byron E. Pay was another private in Company H who fought at Nolensville. A New York native, he entered military service at Mankato.

• Samuel Wright was a corporal from Indiana who fought at Nolensville after he entered military service at Swan Lake and was mustered in at Mankato.

A Mankato native who was a sailor who served at a time when the nation was not at war also will have his name on the monument. Quartermaster Third Class Raymond Davis entered the Navy at Puget Sound in Washington state. His Peacetime Medal of Honor citation describes extraordinary heroism while serving on board the U.S.S. Bennington at the time of a boiler explosion of that vessel at San Diego in July 1905.

Of the ships 197 officers and crew, 62 were killed and more than 40 were wounded. Davis was one of 10 members of the Bennington’s crew who received the Medal of Honor for heroic actions to rescue comrades and minimize damage. He received the medal Jan. 5, 1906.

Kraemer said he took notice of the high percentage of recipients from southern Minnesota during his work as chairman for the Minnesota Medal of Honor Memorial Committee.

“Eight had connections to your newspaper’s coverage area. That’s really something.”