They might not have been Canada’s fights but some of the Canadians who chose to take up arms became some of the most distinguished soldiers on the battlefield.
Of the 10,312 soldiers buried in the U.S. Civil War cemetery at Marietta, Georgia, only two received the highest American award for bravery in the face of the enemy. One of the men to receive the Medal of Honor was Denis Buckley, a Canadian.
Buried under the wrong name for 140 years, Buckley is one of 104 known Canadians who have earned the medal. Bart Armstrong, a Saanich resident and the only Canadian member of the Medal of Honor Historical Society, was instrumental in uncovering Buckley’s story and that of some 50 other Canadians who were awarded the highest honour in the U.S. military.
For the second year in a row, the 62-year-old Armstrong is hosting an information booth at the Royal B.C. Museum to educate visitors on the Canadian recipients of the medal.
“About 95 per cent of the time, the people who I’m talking to don’t have a clue what I’m talking about,” said Armstrong, who served 17 years in the Canadian Forces and retired as a Master Warrant Officer.
“In the United States, unfortunately, they don’t go out of their way to say ‘Hey, there are a lot of other countries who have helped us as well.’”
The trend of Canadians fighting for the U.S. dates back to the 1860s – prior to Canada’s official confederation – when American men from along the eastern seaboard often relocated to Canada during the war. When their children grew up, some would go back across the border to fight for the U.S.
“In lots of the regiments where our guys were, they earned the only medal in that regiment. It’s kinda neat to say that a Canadian did that.”
Armstrong, also the past president of the Victoria Genealogical Society, has findings from his research stacked up around his Saanich home – referred to as the satellite office by his American colleagues in the Medal of Honor Historical Society. For 11 years he has uncovered photos, records and family histories of otherwise unrecognized Canadian war heroes. Among them is Douglas Munro, the only member of the U.S. Coast Guard to ever be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Armstrong has been recognized by the Canadian government for his work, which he hopes to one day publish. Until then, he continues to honour Canadian Medal of Honor recipients with memorial ceremonies, while educating all those interested on both sides of the border. While sharing their history can make some American’s “edgy,” Armstrong said, most are open to learning more about people from other nation’s who played significant roles.
“The purpose of the conversation isn’t to insult (American forces), actually, it’s complimenting (them), by showing how much (they’re) willing to open (their) arms to others.”
Armstrong’s booth is on display at the Royal B.C. Museum from Nov. 7-11 and will be open to the public free of charge.
Canadian leaves legacy in American Coast Guard
Douglas Munro was born to American parents in Vancouver before his father’s railway work saw the family relocated to Washington State. Munro lived most of his life in the United States where he joined the U.S. Coast Guard and became a signalman. During the Guadalcanal Campaign of the Second World War, Munro led a detachment of boats in transporting 500 marines ashore. Soon after Munro landed the marines, the troops were driven back into the ocean.
Under his direction, the coast guard vessels successfully evacuated the men – until the last boat of marines was caught in a drift. Munro lodged his own boat between the marines and enemy lines. He was killed in the crossfire and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.