While Special Collections is primarily concerned with collecting rare and unique textual materials (we are, after all, part of a library, NOT a museum), there is still the occasional three dimensional artifact that finds its way here, usually as part of a larger manuscript collection, and/or because it provides valuable documentation of a particular subject in a significant way.
And as far as significance goes, one could argue that a Medal of Honor would be near the top of that list. The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest military honor, awarded by the President of the United States in the name of Congress to US military personnel for personal acts of valor “above and beyond the call of duty.” Since its creation in 1861, 3,468 Medals of Honor have been awarded to servicemen (nearly half of those were awarded during the Civil War, when it was the only military award available). Due to its prestige and status, the Medal of Honor is afforded special protection under U.S. law against any unauthorized adornment, sale, or manufacture, and recipients are given special lifetime privileges and benefits from the US government, with their names and actions immortalized in ceremonies and monuments.
We have one of these Medals of Honor here in our collection, and this particular medal was awarded to Virginia Tech alum Sergeant Earle Davis Gregory (1897-1972). Gregory, of Chase City, Virginia, was the first native Virginian to receive the Medal of Honor, and one of seven Virginia Tech alums that have received the honor. Gregory earned the Medal of Honor for actions as an Army Sergeant in the 116th infantry regiment during the Meuse Argonne Offensive in World War I. The medal was awarded for gallantry at Bois de Consenvoye, north of Verdun, France on October 8, 1918. With the remark, “I will get them!” Sergeant Gregory seized a rifle and a trench-mortar shell (which he used as a hand grenade), left his detachment of the trench-mortar platoon and advanced ahead of the infantry, capturing 22 enemy soldiers, as well as a machine gun and a howitzer.
On October 11, 1918, three days after Gregory’s heroic charge, he was seriously wounded by shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell in the left thigh, earning him the Purple Heart. Exactly one month after he was wounded, World War I ended. Gregory spent four months in a hospital in France before returning to Virginia in February 1919. On April 24, 1919, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by Major General Omar Bundy in a ceremony at Camp Lee. Gregory was also subsequently awarded equivalent medals from the Allied countries, including the Italian Merito di Guerra, the French Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire, and the Montenegrin Order of Merit.
After the war, Gregory enrolled at Virginia Tech as a member of the Corps of Cadets and studied Electrical Engineering, graduating in 1923. As a senior, he was a Cadet Captain and Company Commander, President of the Corps of Cadets, and selected as “Most Popular Cadet.” After graduating, Gregory spent his career working for the Veterans Administration and was an active member of several veterans organizations. He passed away in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on January 6, 1972.
The Virginia Tech precision military marching unit, The Gregory Guard, was named in honor of Sgt. Gregory in May 1963, and in 1965, Gregory bequeathed his medals, along with his papers and photographs, to Virginia Tech Special Collections. An exhibit of highlights from the Earle D. Gregory Collection, including his medals, are currently on display in the Special Collections reading room.