The Man Behind the Courtney Medal of Honor
NORTHLAND UNCOVERED: Major Henry A. Courtney and the Medal of Honor
DULUTH, Minn. – The Courtney Medal of Honor is a symbol of leadership to many.
“My regret is he was taken in a war, and I never got to grow up and get to know him,” Major Henry Courtney’s nephew Courtney Storey said.
Major Courtney was killed in 1945, two years after his nephew Courtney Storey was born.
What Storey knows of his uncle is what he’s been able to read about in letters.
“The letters reveal the character in the person,” Storey said.
Courtney was a student in law school when he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
He often wrote to his parents.
“He constantly mentions things are going well, food is good, they’re taking good care of us, the chaplain’s taking good care of us,” Storey said.
He traveled around the world in the military before coming back to Duluth.
“What comes through in these letters is he felt like ‘I’ve got combat experience and I’m older, I think I can save lives, I think I can help people stay out of harm’s way with my experience and I want to be there,’ so he volunteered to go back,” Storey said.
But Major Courtney volunteered to enter combat in the Pacific again.
One night, during the Battle of Okinawa, he was ordered to keep watch for a Japanese attack at the bottom of a hill, but Courtney didn’t want to sit still.
“He decided that, as he assessed the situation, there’s been a counterattack virtually every night that’s overrun our lives. The only way we’re going to stop that is to take this hill,” Storey said.
Courtney led his fellow servicemen over the hill and stopped a counter attack at the price of his own life.
“He explained the situation to the men and then said, ‘I’m going up that hill, who’s going with me?’ and he stood up and all 26 men rose and followed him up that hill,” Storey said.
Many of the men that fought beside Courtney decided his bravery and leadership was deserving of the medal of honor.
“The norm in the Marine Corp is alright men, move out. Major Courtney said alright men, follow me,” Storey said.
Courtney’s Medal of Honor has been away from Duluth for over 30 years but has finally returned home to stay in the Saint Louis County Veteran’s museum.