A forgotten “Negro” Medal of Honor recipient was honored last week more than 130 years after he was buried in a mislabeled grave that made no mention of his heroism.
Canadian native Joseph Benjamin Noil enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during the Civil War. Military records simply referred to him as “Negro,” WJLA-TV reports.
In 1873 he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor after jumping from the deck of the U.S.S. Powhattan into bitter cold waters in Norfolk Harbor to save a fellow seaman from drowning, the station reported.
He died nine years later at the Government Hospital for the Insane, known today as Saint Elizabeths in Southeast Washington.
His grave marker in the hospital cemetery made no reference to the Medal of Honor and the grave market misspelled his name Noel due to a typo on his death certificate.
"As someone said to me recently, they didn't know he had a family,”
- Bernadette Ricks, great-great granddaughter of Joseph Noil
The ceremony Friday at St. Elizabeths was to replace the headstone and to reflect on Noil’s heroism, Navy spokesman Eric Lockwood said.
“We’re not only correcting a wrong. We're highlighting and reinforcing that eternal bond that exists between shipmates, past, present and those yet to come,” Chief of Navy Reserve, Vice Adm. Robin Braun said.
He was joined at the ceremony by Canadian Defense Attache Rear Adm. William Truelove.
Attendees also included relatives of Noil who happened to see an online posting about the event a couple of weeks ago.
"As someone said to me recently, they didn't know he had a family,” Bernadette Ricks, Noil's great-great granddaughter said. “But now he has a vibrant gang of descendants. We love you. We thank you. And now you can rest in peace."