November 27, 2022

Lest we forget... Three Medal of Honor recipients lie in county

The Medal of Honor is our nation’s highest award for valor and intrepidity. Nationally, 3,465 medals have been awarded since the beginning of the Civil War. In all wars, from the Civil War through Vietnam, 112 soldiers with attachments to the state of Iowa are recipients of this most prestigious award. Three are interred in Jasper County, and their very brief, condensed vignettes are intended to keep readers informed about the heroes within our midst.

Herschel F. “Pete” Briles Staff Sergeant, U. S. Army, Co. C, 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion, near Scherpenseel, Germany, WWII.

Herschel Briles was born in 1914 at Colfax, the eighth of nine children. “Pete” was raised on the farm, where he learned hard work and responsibility. With the start of World War II, Briles accepted his duty of service by enlisting in the U. S. Army, where he was assigned to the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion. On November 20, 1944, Sergeant Briles was leading a platoon of tank destroyers across an exposed slope near Scherpenseel, Germany, when they came under heavy enemy artillery fire. A direct hit was scored on one of the vehicles, killing one man, seriously wounding two others, and setting the tank destroyer on fire. Briles and a comrade left their own armor and raced across ground raked by artillery and small arms fire to rescue the men in the shattered destroyer. Briles removed the wounded and extinguished the fire. The next morning, Briles observed German infantrymen advancing on allied positions. With his machine gun, he poured such deadly fire into their ranks that 55 Germans surrendered. Later in the day, another tank destroyer was hit, and Briles and another soldier evacuated the two wounded soldiers under heavy enemy fire. They then returned to the burning vehicle, braved death from exploding ammunition, and put out the flames. Herschel Briles received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman in 1945 in ceremonies at the East Room of the White House. During the presentation, President Truman personally stated to Sgt. Briles, “Sir, you are a national hero. I would far rather be the recipient of the Medal of Honor, than president of the United States.” Briles responded, “Mr. President, I am no hero. I only did what was expected. The real heroes never made it home.” Following the war, Briles returned to Iowa, married, and had three sons. He continued to farm, and in 1955 became a partner in the Colfax Livestock Sales Company. Pete Briles died at the age of 80 at his home in Mitchellville. His interment is at Waveland Cemetery, Prairie City.

Joseph Stickels Sergeant, Co. A, 83rd Ohio Infantry Citation: Capture of flag [Fort Blakely, Ala.]

Joseph Stickles was born in 1843 in Butler County, Ohio. At the age of 19, Stickels met the call-to-arms by enrolling in Company H, 83rd Regiment of the Ohio Infantry. He later fought in fourteen major battles in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama, and was present with Major-General Ulysses S. Grant in both assaults on Vicksburg, Mississippi. In November 1863, Joseph Stickels was captured at Carrion Crow Bayou in Louisiana, serving 53 days as a prisoner of war. His exchange occurred on Christmas Day. On April 9, 1865, while engaged in the assault upon Fort Blakely, Ala., Stickels succeeded in capturing the Confederate States of America battle flag from the fort itself. The Rebels in the fort fiercely defended their colors, but to no avail. Stickels succeeded under intense enemy fire. His successful act was so depressing to the Confederates, they soon abandoned and surrendered the fort. Stickles was awarded the nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his daring act of intrepidity. Following the war, Joseph married Theresa Jane Meredith, and the couple moved to Iowa, settling near Monroe. Joseph had contracted tuberculosis while in Confederate prisons, and was soon forced to leave his occupation of farming. Joseph Stickels died of the disease in 1876 while in Quincy, Ill., leaving Theresa a widow at age 27, and a son, Harry, 1 year old. Joseph is buried at Silent City Cemetery, Monroe. A Veterans Administration Medal of Honor gravestone was dedicated at the gravesite in July, 2005.

Edward J. Bebb Private, Company D, Fourth Regiment, Iowa Cavalry Citation: Capture of flag and bearer.

New Salem Cemetery, two miles south of Lynnville, Iowa, on Highway T-38, is the final resting place of Edward James Bebb. The Medal of Honor Historical Society placed a permanent marker at the grave on September 18, 1999. Edward J. Bebb was born on April 28, 1839, in Butler County, Ohio. The family moved to Iowa in 1851, settling in the rural, southeast part of the state. At the age of 22, Bebb enrolled in the Union Army at Mount Pleasant, mustering into Company D, Fourth Iowa Cavalry. Edward James Bebb joined the ranks of our nations most decorated by receiving the Medal of Honor in field ceremonies on June 17, 1865. Gleaned from Official Records of the War Department is documentation that on April 16, 1865, while serving with the Wilson Cavalry in battle against the Confederates at Columbus, Georgia, Private Edward J. Bebb, Fourth Iowa, captured a Rebel flag from an enemy regiment from the bridge crossing the Chattahoochie River, Columbus, Ga. In a later communication from General Wilson to the Headquarters of The Cavalry Corps, whereby the General was reporting the transmittal of twenty-four stands of colors captured from the enemy during the late campaign in Alabama and Georgia, General Wilson related the actions of ten soldiers from his Iowa units. Included was that of Edward J. Bebb, the General stating, “About 100 yards from the bridge and in the line of works, [Bebb] took a flag, the Rebels near it running away before our men . . .” It was at the conclusion of this communication that General Wilson recommended that Bebb and nine other Iowans be awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the last battle of the Civil War, which actually had ended a week earlier with Lee’s defeat and surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Bebb returned to Iowa and settled into farming in southern Jasper County. On March 8, 1866, he married Mary A. Hungerford at Wapello, Iowa. Six children were born to the couple. Bebb became a widower on June 21, 1900, when Mary died of what was reported to be a “paralytic stroke”. Edward James Bebb resided in Iowa from 1851 to 1889; Nebraska from 1889 to 1894; Missouri from 1894 to 1899, and that year returned to Jasper County, Iowa. Following Mary’s death, Edward was less able to care for himself, and moved to Oskaloosa. An unmarried daughter, Della, born in 1876, lived in Oskaloosa and cared for her ailing father. On December 20, 1911, Bebb was admitted to the Iowa Soldiers Home in Marshalltown, residing there until his passing on July 12, 1916, at the age of 77 years. Records list the cause of death as “paralysis”. Edward James Bebb’s precious Medal of Honor is available for all to view, being permanently displayed at the Gold Star Museum, Camp Dodge, Johnston, Iowa. ——— Photo Credits: Joseph Stickles photo copyright courtesy of Dennis Black. Bebb photo courtesy Robert Snodgrass of Oskaloosa