Today is Veterans Day, the day we give thanks to our military veterans. Those who are old enough remember it by its previous name, Armistice Day, for the signing on Nov. 11, 1918, of the armistice ending World War I. Still, the day has always been about the soldiers.
Perhaps no soldiers are more revered than those whose outstanding actions and sacrifice earned them the Medal of Honor, the highest award that can be bestowed upon members of the military, given for valor and bravery above and beyond the call of duty. In fact, many recipients didn’t live long enough to become veterans, but died while active members of the military, performing the acts of valor that would earn them this highest recognition – their awards coming to them posthumously.
For many years, the Spokane community has known of three Medal of Honor recipients buried here – Joe E. Mann, who served in World War II and who received his medal for service in Holland, where he threw his body on a grenade to save fellow soldiers; and Bruce Grandstaff, who served in Pleiku Province during the Vietnam War, receiving his award for fighting against overwhelming forces to rally and save his men. Both of these soldiers died in action; they are buried at Greenwood Memorial Terrace.
Buried at Fairmount Memorial Park is Jesse Drowley, who served in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions when he carried wounded men to safety and for his attack of an enemy pillbox, causing him severe wounds. He died in Spokane in 1996.
Just this past year it was discovered that there was a fourth Medal of Honor veteran buried in Spokane, a man who served in the Civil War. It was during the Civil War that the Medal of Honor came into being, and it is an honor that one of its earliest recipients lies at rest here, said Robert Goff, family service representative at the cemetery.
Spokane’s Civil War Medal of Honor recipient is Amos Bradley, who for more than a century lay in an unmarked grave at Greenwood. Goff tells the story: In 2009 representatives of the U.S. Army were documenting where all Medal of Honor recipients were buried and, in addition to verifying the burial sites of Mann, Grandstaff and Drowley, one name came up that Greenwood staff was able to match as well – Amos Bradley, born in 1837 in Dansville, N.Y., and died June 9, 1894, in Spokane.
Not much is known about Bradley, but a brief obituary noted that he died at his home in the Ross Park area of the city and that he had been living in Spokane since 1883. There was no mention of his Medal of Honor status.
What is known is that Bradley served as a landsman in the Navy, considered an entry rank for a naval recruit in the Union forces. The language from his Medal of Honor citation, dated April 3, 1863, tells the rest: “Served on board the USS Varuna in one of the most responsible positions, during the attacks on Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and while in action against the rebel ship Morgan 24 April 1862. Although guns were raking the decks from behind him, Bradley remained steadfast at the wheel throughout the thickest of the fight, continuing at his station and rendering service with the greatest courage until his ship, repeatedly holed and twice rammed by the rebel ship Morgan, was beached and sunk.”
Much more is known about the Varuna, the 1,300-ton, steam-powered vessel outfitted with powerful 8-inch guns and assigned to the Union blockade of ports of the Confederacy. The Varuna joined Rear Admiral David Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron on March 6, 1862, and on April 24 participated in a daring nighttime run past Confederate fortifications guarding the Mississippi River below New Orleans – Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip. Historic records show that the gunboat was rammed by the Confederate ships the Governor Moore and Stonewall Jackson (not the Morgan, as indicated on the Medal of Honor citation). Though fatally damaged, the Varuna was able to back off and continue firing until rising water silenced her guns.
Along with Bradley, seven other sailors on the Varuna received the Medal of Honor for their actions in the battle.
There is then a large gap in the record, including details about why Bradley came to Spokane, until he was rediscovered last year. And there is another mystery at his grave site. Buried next to him, also in an unmarked grave, is Mary Selhiem (died in 1903 and buried there in 1905). Goff said their records show there is some connection between the two. And two spaces over is the grave of Rose Bradley, who died in 1890. Her connection is also not known, but it seems likely that with the same last name and buried so close together, there must be a relationship.
Fittingly, when it was established in 2009 that Amos Bradley was a Medal of Honor recipient, the Department of Veterans Affairs was finally able to place a military headstone at the grave of this Civil War hero.