Remembering Niles’ only Congressional Medal recipient

Published 8:05 am Monday, June 23, 2003

By By LOU LIEBETRAU / Special to the Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Every individual who endangers his or her life to insure our community's safety and preserve our freedoms is very definitely a hero.
Heroes can come from every walk of life and in the case of Niles' only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Joseph A. Nolan, he was described as a husband and father who preferred a quiet, ordinary life.
Mr. Nolan's birthdate was recorded as Jan. 20, 1857, and he came to Michigan with his parents, Clinton S. and Sarah C. Nolan when he was a small boy.
As a young man, he was employed as a blacksmith and after his marriage, his wife Edna had four sons, whom they named Odel, Orville, Herbert and Clinton.
As time went on, the United States declared war on Spain in 1898. Although Mr. Nolan was now 42 years old, much older than most recruits, he obviously felt a strong motivation to serve his country, so in September 1899, he traveled to South Bend, Ind., and enlisted in the Army.
Surely, he did not realize that by doing so, he would soon be earning a place in American history.
Within a day or two after his enlistment, Joseph Albert Nolan left for Indianapolis where he was dutifully sworn into the Service.
From there, he was sent to Fort Snelling, Minn., for several weeks, then on to San Francisco until Nov. 16, where they boarded the USA Transport "Benmohr" for Manila, Philippine Island.
After traveling 10 days at sea, they then stopped at Honolulu, Hawaii, then eventually arrived in Manila on Dec. 20, 1899.
He referred to Manila as the best-lit city he had ever seen, arriving in his barracks on Dec. 22. In Calocan, he enjoyed sleeping on the bamboo floors of the barracks after having spent such a long time aboard the transport. After breaking camp and heading south of Manila, Mr. Nolan took sick with malarial fever and was returned to Manila, where he was hospitalized in the Hospital Reserve for three or four weeks.
After having recovered from the fever, he then traveled by boat to rejoin his regiment, who was by then in Niac.
By Feb. 15, 1900, they left for the Southern Province and eventually moved to Iriga. By this time, Company B of the 45 was sent to Daet.
As they forged on to Labo (a distance of 18 miles) and arrived there about daybreak, the enemy quickly began firing at them from the opposite side of the Labo River.
From here on, the situation becomes very life-threatening, as they are ambushed in a hemp thicket.
As the enemy opened fire on them, the Captain's legs are broken, 11 men are wounded and three men are killed.
Hand-to-hand combat begins at this point and both the first Sergeant and the Corporal were killed. The events that take place next are those that earn Joseph Albert Nolan the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Thinking quickly, he jumps into the trenches and begins firing his gun so rapidly that it burns his hands; but doing so gives his men the opportunity to retreat, place their wounded on their ponies and head back to the safety of the Labo Church.
Once all of his troop was across the river, he managed to follow suit and they all took refuge in the stone church.
After remaining there for two days, Mr. Nolan and his Philippino guide left the troop, warning them not to open the door for anyone and heads back to Daet for help.
He endured many hardships and narrowly escaped death before finding Lt. Blaker and his Company of 51 men.
Despite enduring more gunfire from the enemy, Mr. Nolan was able to lead Lt. Blaker and his men to the church during the daytime hours.
The rescue was harrowing but successful, and General Bates pronounced it the bravest piece of work ever performed in the Archipelago by one man.
Mr. Nolan's Citation for the Medal of Honor reads: "NOLAN, JOSEPH A., Artificer, Company B, 45th. Infantry, United States Volunteers.
Place and Date: At Labao, Luxon, Philippine Islands, 29 May 1900. Entered Service at: South Bend, Indiana. Birth: Elkhart, Indiana. Date of Issue: 14 Mar. 1902. Citation: Voluntarily left shelter and at great personal risk passed the enemy's lines and brought relief to besieged comrades.
From the VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS of the United States, Office of Department Quartermaster, Minneapolis, Minnesota …The paid Western Union Message: dated August 12, 1921 reads: Confirmation. Mrs. Joseph A. Nolan, Niles, Michigan.
Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars, many of whom served with your departed husband, extend deepest sympathy to you and children. A Medal of Honor Man, one of our Country's greatest Heroes, his name will forever remain inscribed upon our Nation's most sacred Honor Roll.
John Bowe, Department Commander
T.M. Thomson, Department Adjutant.