Joseph Noil 1872

Joseph Noil 1872

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

A 134-year-old grave marker error is being righted in Washington, D.C., next week.

On Friday, April 29, at a cemetery on the grounds of Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital, a highly decorated African-Canadian sailor who served with U.S. Navy during the Civil War, then quickly forgotten at war’s end, is finally getting appropriate recognition.

Rear-Admiral William Truelove, Canadian Defence Attaché, will join political and military officials from both sides of the border to unveil a Medal of Honor Headstone that properly recognizes the bravery of Joseph Benjamin Noil.

On Dec. 26, 1872, Noil was a seaman in USS Powhatan when he dove into frigid seas and successfully rescued a fellow shipmate who had fallen overboard.

While the President at that time recognized him for his heroism with its top honor, Noil never received a Medal of Honor Headstone upon his death at the hospital in 1882.

Add to that, his name was misspelled on his death certificate – Noel – which was then engraved onto his headstone.

The Liverpool, Nova Scotia native is just one of 109 Canadians known to have received the Medal of Honor; there are 3,514 total recipients.

He is also the only known African-Canadian to be honoured with the award that is given only to military personnel who have shown personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.

Noil also served with distinction in the U.S. Navy throughout the Civil War and by the time of his death had risen to rank of Captain of the Hold aboard USS Wyoming.

In 2009, members of the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States, working with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, discovered the grave and the misspelled name.

Victoria historian and blogger Bart Armstrong is a member of the U.S.-based historical organization and for the past few years has been a driving force behind the move to properly recognize Noil.

“At first nobody knew where he was buried and then when his headstone was found it was in very poor condition, misspelled and there was nothing to identify him as a hero,” said Armstrong.

“It took myself and others several years of hard work and jumping through hoops to make people understand the significance of his contributions.”

RAdm Truelove will join District of Columbia leaders, including Tammi Lambert, Director, Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and Dr. Tanya A. Royster, Director, D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy, Army, Marines and D.C. National Guard, and veterans to right a century-old error.

“How fitting it is, that I, another proud son of Liverpool, have the honour to eulogize him and to ensure that his act of bravery is rightly recognized,” says RAdm Truelove.

“I can say that the people of Liverpool are profoundly honoured to have one of their own bestowed with the Medal of Honor of which, to date, there are only 3,514 recipients.

With thanks to the work of the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States we begin a new chapter wherein future generations will be able to bear witness to Noil’s bravery and our common recognition of it.

In Canada, we pride ourselves in remembering our fallen.  Captain-of-the-Hold Joseph Benjamin Noil was indeed Canadian, and we see him as our hero too.”

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  1. W. Carpenter says:

    Four descendants of Seaman Noil will attend Friday’s ceremony, as will RAdm.Yancy Lindsey, USN, Commandant, Naval District Washington.

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