muriel j smith 120 2018It’s home. It’s back in Freehold. It’s in the proud hands of a family member. It’s  a Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award ever presented to a soldier. It’s a Medal received because a fighting Irishman who left his Galway home for a new life in America just two years earlier, was convinced that this new homeland of his  was precious enough to fight for. Not once. Not twice. But more than 20 times. And when he was sick and they wanted to excuse him from battle, he refused to lie down, so to speak. This fighting Irishman had a homeland to fight for, and nothing was going to stop him.  After another battle or two, ,he was discharged and went back home to Freehold. But only for a few months. Still apparently in love with his new home, albeit torn apart by thousands of deaths and destruction on both sides of the Yankee Confederate line, he signed up again…this time he was a sergeant with a New Jersey company.

This is the story of Thomas T. Fallon, Freehold’s fighting Irishman,  husband, father, tailor, Catholic, Civil War hero.

I’m not sure how or exactly when  I first heard about Pvt. Fallon. Or when I first visited his grave at St. Rose of Lima Cemetery. I can’t remember when I found out his Medal of Honor was in a museum, pretending to be some other hero’s Medal of Honor.

congressional medal honor fallon 1PHOTO (l-r) Borough Historian Kevin Coyne, Glenn Cashion, Muriel Smith, NJR-4 Congressman Chris Smith, Mth Cty Freeholder Lillian Burry, Mayor Nolan Higgins

What I do remember is that I knew it was wrong, knew it was a crime, knew it was downright disgusting that Pvt. Fallon’s Medal of Honor was sitting in a college museum, not to honor him, but to pretend it was the Medal of Honor of yet another Civil War  Hero. A general no less.  How ironic. Even in death, it was dependent upon a lowly private to take on the mantle of a General.

That’s when I knew I was going to do something about it. I was going to bring that Medal of Honor back to Freehold. And I wasn’t going to quit until I did.

That was three and a half years ago. It didn’t turn out exactly as I expected, nor as quickly as I hoped. But it happened.

And Glenn Cashion of Middletown can brag to the world, rightfully so, that he has a great uncle who was declared a hero by his adopted country’s President and Congress.

Actually, Glenn can brag about a lot of ancestors who are heroes. Walk through St. Rose cemetery with him and see him visit the graves of aunts, uncles, cousins, generations of heroes who came from Ireland, settled in Freehold and made successful lives for themselves. That in itself makes them heroes.

When Glenn, a friend, a Freehold native, and a member like myself of the Monmouth County Historical Commission, learned I was trying to get Pvt. Fallon’s Medal back to Freehold, he told me it was his ancestor. In fact, he was  identifying his lineage and was sure Pvt. Fallon was in the mix, married to a great aunt of his.

I spent the next 18 months to two years trying to carry on e-mail correspondence with the college museum curator. Surely, I thought naively, once they heard the Medal belonged in Freehold, they’d certainly give it back.

By July of 2017, I had worked up a cozy e-mail friendship with the curator.  He admitted he had received a letter from Freehold’s mayor, who at my request had also asked for the Medal.  And in response, the curator said he had already contacted a colleague at the US Army Heritage and Education Center to “ begin investigating how the US Army prefers that the matter be handled.”  All of a sudden he was wondering how the Army wanted to handle this? And what’s more, he was asking a Heritage Center colleague to get the answer for him.. Nobody seemed to care how the US Army handled the matter in 1957 when a General at Fort Knox simply handed over Pvt. Fallon’s Medal to the college at the curator’s request.  And if you really wanted to know the answer, wouldn’t you simply go to the Army at Fort Knox? After all, they’re the keeper of Army medals. And wouldn’t you think the very college that got that medal from Fort Knox and had all the paperwork to show it did in 1957, would simply call up or e-mail Fort Knox and ask?

But not to worry. The college’s interest in righting a 1957 wrong was negligible, if at all. The next paragraph of the e-mail convinced me.  “We are currently overwhelmed with other activities, which include planning for a weeklong workshop bringing 20 teachers from across the country to learn about the local Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Rest assured, we will respond to the letter, when time permits.”  When time permits. Sure, returning the Medal of Honor to its rightful residence was high on their list of priorities.

But of course, the curator left me with hope. The last sentence assured me,  “If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me via this email account. Email is always the easiest way to reach me.” 

He was yet to learn I had more questions. And I wouldn’t hesitate to contact him.

Next: And more delays and excuses