HAMILTON: Wounded Knee and Niagara Falls’ Sgt. Toy Says Rescind the Doggone Wounded Knee Medals!

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By: Ken Hamilton

In light of Massachusetts’ Senator Elizabeth Warren’s former but now debunked claims that she was indeed part Native American, it is still humorous to hear President Donald Trump refer to the very white, female, presidential candidate as Pocahontas. What isn’t funny is the “Remove the Stain Act” bill for which the politician Warren waited until Thanksgiving Eve of 2019 to introduce into the US Senate to rescind what is seemingly the obviously politically-motivated rescinding of 20 Medal of Honor Medallions that were handed out to the soldiers that killed nearly 400 Native Americans at the terrible Wounded Knee Massacre in December of 1890.

Correcting the sins of our past history should be an important enough issue to all Americans so much so that it remains above politicization.  While some Americans might say that it all happened in the past and that it is time to move on, other Americans believe that one day we will overcome our racial bigotry in this nation. But because America is simply the manifestation of an ideal idea that is embodied in its beautiful Constitution and isn’t a biological entity with a limited lifetime, there is but “one day” in America – a very long, long, continuous day that hopefully will be measured by those who follow us in the same terms that we now measure periods like the Stone Age, Iron Age, Middle Ages, Age of Renaissance, Industrial Age and other such long historic experiences that constitute a single period in history.

If Warren gets her way, despite her obvious politicization of the issue, then it will call for the removals of one such medal that was awarded to the now-deceased Niagara Falls native 1st Sgt Frederick Toy. His name is on one of seven small black dedicated granite monuments at the Niagara Falls Veteran Monument Commission’s American Veteran Monuments at the city’s Hyde Park. It sits in a cluster eight such symmetrical monuments that include the one engraved to honor Marine Corps Lt. John P. Bobo.  Bobo undisputedly earned his award in Vietnam by surrendering to eternity his already mortally wounded life on March 30, 1967 while providing covering gunfire onto an encroaching enemy and thereby saving the retreating lives of the men under his command. 

While there’s no question that Bobo earned his honors, there have long been questions about Toy and the other soldiers that were involved in the massacre at Wounded Knee; and I agree with Warren and others that the 20 medals should be rescinded. And there’s both criteria and precedence for such as well.

For instance, it is recorded that in both of the American Civil Wars – one being the war of Southern secession, and the other being that even longer civil war (long been dismissed as such) that is simply labeled the Indian Wars – that the bloodiest in the number of loss in a single battle was September 17, 1862’s Battle of Antietam. There, nearly 23,000 American brothers were killed, wounded or went missing.  In the case of the massacre at Wounded Knee, a battle of such, between 250 – 300 Miniconjou Indians and 25 US Calvary soldiers were killed with almost each of the number being killed by the Calvary’s gunfire. There has long been resistance to rescinding the 20 Medals at Wounded knee where white men killed largely unarmed red men; but in the case of Antietam, where white men killed other white men and the Medal of Honor was liberally issued, and in World War One, where likewise was the case, Congress in 1918 reviewed the cases of awards and rescinded 900 such medals, creating both criteria and precedence for such a move. Clearly the only difference between the white-on-red 20 Wounded Knee-given medals and the 900 white-on-white medals was race, a stain that can only be removed in the same manner as it was in 1918.

Let me say this; while Frederick (Friedrich) Ernest Toy was no less than an honorable soldier and man of his era, whose post-military life was no less honorable than his military life, we can give him praise. On at least two occasions he returned to the service of his country during times of war. He was even a captain in World War One. and is buried at Riverdale Cemetery in Lewiston, New York. Toy’s grave marker identifies him as a captain. His situation was no different than, but opposite of that of Army LT William Calley who was severely punished for his role in Vietnam’s My Lai Massacre on March 16, 1968 where reportedly 500 people were killed.  Had news cameras been allowed Wounded Knee, Toy’s fate may have been the same as Calley’s and no medals would have been issued to his comrades and him.

But they were issued; and it all kind of takes us back to Toy and Bobo. Bobo was in Vietnam on the day of his death because of WWI and II when the US took on the issue of saving Europe, creating allies in the interim, and the people of French Indochina (Vietnam) wasn’t one of them.  The US ignored the pleas of Ho Chi Minh and his desire to create a Jeffersonian government in the area, and decided to aid the French who eventually left the South-East Asian issue to the US under the cover of the spread of communism. The conservative Martin Luther King, failing to get support from conservative democrats in his efforts for civil rights at parity with them, likewise made alliances with the political left. Had the US aided in negotiating with France on their withdrawal from Vietnam, though Bobo’s medal was well deserved, it would have been unnecessary.

And in the case of Sgt. Toy, Warren and others gives America an opportunity to address the cyclical mistakes it has often made, and to look to a paraphrased saying of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, who said, “The good of the many outweighs the good of the one”, then surely, the good of all Americans as a nation, outweighs the need of 20 now-deceased persons. 

Rescind the doggone medals!


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