1. News
  2. /
  3. Hillsborough

These are the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients who have a Florida connection

Some were born in Florida. Others joined up here. All received the nation’s highest award for valor in action against an enemy force.
Melvin Morris is seen in this undated photo by Nick Del Calzo.
Melvin Morris is seen in this undated photo by Nick Del Calzo. [ NICK DEL CALZO | Photo by ]
Published Oct. 22, 2019
Updated Oct. 22, 2019

Captain Charles Albert Varnum, U.S. Army, Indian Wars, December 30, 1890

Varnum, who joined the army in Pensacola, was ordered to withdraw while fighting a Native-American tribe in South Dakota. Seeing that would leave part of his regiment exposed, he led a charge against the advancing fighters, allowing his men to withdraw without further loss of life

Sergeant Clarence M. Condon, U.S. Army, Philippine Insurrection, Nov. 5, 1899

While commanding a detachment of four men near Calulut, Luzon in the Philippine Islands, Condon charged and routed 40 entrenched insurgents, inflicting heavy losses.

Chief Machinist’s Mate Francis Edward Ormsbee Jr., U.S. Navy, World War I, Dec. 31, 1918

Ormsbee was attached to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola when he saw a plane go into a tailspin and crash. He raced to the wreckage, which was mostly under water, and was able to keep a gunner’s head afloat until help arrived. He them made several attempts to rescue the pilot, suffering numerous injuries on the wreckage, but was unsuccessful.

Lieutenant Commander William Merrill Corry Jr., U.S. Navy, World War I, Oct. 2, 1920

Corry, a native of Quincy, Fl, was riding in a plane that crashed and burst into flames near Hartford, Conn. He was thrown 30 feet and, though injured, rushed back to the burning plane and tried to release the pilot. He sustained serious burns and died four days later.

Second Lieutenant Alexander Ramsey Nininger Jr., U.S. Army, World War II, Jan. 12, 1942

Nininger, who extended his army service in Fort Lauderdale,, was serving near Abucay, Bataan in the Philippine Islands when he joined another unit that was under assault. Nininger repeatedly attacked with rifle and hand grenades, destroying several enemy groups. Though wounded three times, he continued fighting until he was killed. When his body was recovered, one enemy officer and two enemy soldiers lay dead around him.

Private James Henry Mills, U.S. Army, World War II, May 24, 1944

Mills, who joined the army in Fort Meade, Fl., was at the front of a platoon near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy when he was fired on by a nearby machine gun. Though his first time in combat, Mills killed the gunner with one shot and forced the surrender of the assistant gunner. He then saw a German soldier pulling the pin of a grenade. Covering the German with his rifle, Mills forced him to drop the grenade and captured him. When another enemy soldier tried to throw a hand grenade, Mills killed him with one shot. Later, while under extreme fire, he charged headlong while shooting his M1 from the hip. All six enemy soldiers surrendered. Before the day was over, Mills led his platoon to an overwhelming victory without suffering a single casualty.

Commander David McCampbell, U.S. Navy, World War II, June 19, 1944 and Oct. 24, 1944

McCampbell, an Alabama native who joined the navy while living in Florida, was commander of Air Group 15 during the first and second battles of the Philippine Sea. He led his fighter planes against a force of 80 Japanese aircraft, personally destroying seven hostile planes. Four months later, McCampbell and one other U.S. plane attacked 60 hostile land-based craft approaching American forces. He shot down nine Japanese planes and forced the remainder to abandon the attack.

Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer, U.S. Army Air Corps, World War II, Nov. 2, 1944

Femoyer, who joined the army in Jacksonville, was the navigator on a bomber flying near Merseburg, Germany when the plane was struck by three antiaircraft shells. The plane was seriously damaged and Femoyer was severely wounded by shell fragments. Despite extreme pain and loss of blood, he refused morphine so he could navigate the plane out of danger. For 2 1/2 hours he successfully directed the bomber, steering it to a safe area over the English Channel. He died shortly after being removed from the plane.

Read inspiring stories about ordinary lives

Read inspiring stories about ordinary lives

Subscribe to our free How They Lived newsletter

You’ll get a remembrance of Tampa Bay residents we’ve lost, including heartwarming and amusing details about their lives, every Tuesday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Major Thomas Buchanan McGuire Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, World War II, Dec. 25-26, 1944

McGuire was leading a squadron of 15 P-38′s in the Phillipine Islands when his formation was attacked by 20 Japanese fighters. He repeatedly flew to the aid of comrades while himself under attack and at times outnumbered 3 to 1. Even after his guns jammed he continued to fight by forcing a hostile plane into his wingman’s line of fire. The next day he again volunteered to lead escort fighters and again exposed himself to attacks. In rapid succession he shot down 1 aircraft, parried the attack of 4 enemy fighters, 1 of which he shot down, single-handedly engaged 3 more Japanese, destroying 1, and then shot down still another, his 38th victory in aerial combat.

Private Robert Miller McTureous Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, World War II, June 7, 1945

McTureous, a native of Altoona, Fl., had just helped capture an important hill on Okinawa when he saw machine gun fire attacking stretcher-bearers evacuating wounded marines. He filled his jacket with hand grenades and charged the enemy-occupied caves from which the barrage was coming. He smashed grenades into the cave entrances, drawing fire toward himself and away from the stretcher-bearers, and continued attacking until he sustained serious wounds. Unwilling to endanger the lives of his comrades, he crawled 200 yards to a sheltered position within friendly lines before calling for aid.

First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez, U.S. Marine Corps, Korean War, September 15, 1950

Lopez, a Tampa native and marine platoon commander, had landed on Inchon with an assault wave when he exposed himself to hostile fire, moving alongside a bunker while preparing to throw a hand grenade into the next pillbox. He was hit in the right shoulder and chest as he lifted his arm to throw, causing him to drop the grenade. He dragged his body forward and grabbed it but was too wounded to throw it. He chose to sacrifice himself rather than endanger the lives of his men, cradling the grenade under him and absorbing the full impact of the explosion.

Private First Class Emory L. Bennett, U.S. Army, Korean War, June 24, 1951

Bennett, born in New Smyrna Beach, was near Sobangsan, Korea when two enemy battalions mounted a ferocious banzai charge in an attempt to dislodge his company from a defensive position. Aware of the odds against him, Bennett left his foxhole, moved through withering fire, stood within full view of the enemy and used his automatic rifle to attack his onrushing assailants. When orders were given to move back, a wounded Bennett provided covering fire until he was mortally wounded. His company was able to withdraw safely.

Hospital Corpsman Third Class Robert R. Ingram, U.S. Navy, Vietnam War, March 28, 1966

Ingram, a native of Clearwater, was a marine corpsman attached to a company fighting in the Quang Ngai Province when a village tree line suddenly exploded with an intense hail of automatic rifle fire from 100 North Vietnamese regulars. The platoon ranks were decimated. Ingram crawled to reach a downed Marine. As he administered aid, a bullet went through the palm of his hand. Calls for “CORPSMAN” echoed across the ridge. Bleeding, he edged across the field, administering aid while being wounded two more times. He finally reached the right flank of the platoon. While dressing a head wound, he sustained his fourth bullet wound. His actions saved many lives that day.

Corporal Larry Eugene Smedley, U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam War, Dec. 20-21, 1967

Smedley, who joined the marines in Orlando, was leading his six-man squad to an ambush site near Phouc Ninh when an estimated 100 Viet Cong and NVA regulars were seen moving toward a hill. Smedley maneuvered his men to a stronger position and led an attack on the larger enemy force even as machine gun fire inflicted several casualties on his unit. Simultaneously, an enemy rifle grenade exploded nearby, wounding him in the right foot and knocking him to the ground. Smedley struggled to his feet and led a charge against the machine gun emplacement, firing his rifle and throwing grenades, until he was again struck by enemy fire. Gravely wounded, he rose and began a one-man assault against the enemy position. Although the machine gun was destroyed, he was struck in the chest by enemy fire and mortally wounded.

Staff Sergeant Clifford Chester Sims, U.S. Army, Vietnam War, Feb. 21, 1968

Sims, a native of Port St. Joe, Fl., was leading a squad near Hue when it was hit by defensive fire. He led his men in an attack to free a platoon that had been pinned down and then provided covering fire. After moving no more than 30 meters, he noticed that a building holding ammunition was on fire. He quickly moved his squad, limiting serious casualties to two men. While continuing through the dense woods amid heavy enemy fire, Sims heard a concealed booby trap being triggered to their front. He hurled himself upon the device, sacrificing his life.

Specialist Fourth Class Nicholas J. Cutinha, U.S. Army, Vietnam War, March 2, 1968

Cutinha, a native of Fernandina Beach, was a machine-gunner attached to a unit near Gia Dinh when his company came under fire from a battalion-size enemy unit. During the initial attack, communication was lost and the company commander and other company members became casualties. Cutinha moved to the front, firing his machine gun at the charging enemy. He drew fire on his own position and was seriously wounded in the leg. As the fire intensified and half of the company was killed or wounded, Cutinha assumed command and initiated a withdrawal while providing covering fire for the evacuation of the wounded. He killed several enemy soldiers but sustained another leg wound when his machine gun was destroyed. Undaunted, he crawled through enemy fire to an operable machine gun and kept firing. Cutinha provided defensive fire until he fell mortally wounded. He was responsible for killing 15 enemy soldiers while saving the lives of at least 9 members of his own unit.

Specialist Fourth Class Robert Martin Patterson, U.S. Army, Vietnam War, May 6, 1968

Patterson, who lives in Florida, distinguished himself while serving as a fire team leader of the 3rd Platoon, Troop B, during an assault against a North Vietnamese Army battalion that was entrenched in a heavily fortified position. When the leading squad of the 3rd Platoon was pinned down by heavy automatic weapon and rocket propelled grenade fire from two enemy bunkers, Patterson and the two other members of his assault team destroyed the bunkers with grenades and machine guns. Observing that his comrades were being fired on from a third enemy bunker, Patterson ignored the warning of his fellow soldiers and destroyed the position. He single-handedly destroyed by rifle and grenade fire five enemy bunkers, killed eight enemy soldiers and captured seven weapons.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Clyde Everett Lassen, U.S. Navy, Vietnam War, June 19, 1968

Lassen, a native of Fort Myers, was the pilot and commander of a search and rescue helicopter in North Vietnam when it launched shortly after midnight to rescue two downed aviators. Flying over hostile territory, Lassen piloted the chopper to a hill where the survivors had been located. Despite enemy fire, he landed in a clear area but the survivors could not reach him. With the aid of flare illumination, he managed to hover between two trees at the survivors’ position. But the flares ran out and the helicopter hit a tree, suffering significant damage. Lassen tried several other rescue attempts under enemy fire, but was unsuccessful. Fully aware of the danger, he turned on his lights and completed the landing. On this attempt, the survivors were able to make their way to the helicopter. With fuel for only 5 minutes of flight remaining, he landed safely aboard the U.S.S. Jouett.

Private First Class Robert H. Jenkins Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam War, March 5, 1969

Jenkins, a native of Interlachen, Fl., was a machine-gunner attached to a 12-man reconnaissance team south of the Demilitarized Zone when the team was suddenly assaulted by a NVA platoon using mortars, automatic weapons, and hand grenades. Jenkins and another marine quickly moved into a 2-man fighting emplacement, and as they delivered machine gun fire against the enemy, a North Vietnamese soldier threw a hand grenade into the emplacement. Jenkins pushed his comrade to the ground and leaped on top of him to shield him from the explosion. Jenkins later succumbed to his wounds.

Staff Sergeant Hammett L. Bowen Jr., U.S. Army, Vietnam War

Bowen, who joined the army in Jacksonville, was in Binh Duong Province leading his platoon on a reconnaissance mission when it came under crossfire from an enemy ambush force. Bowen placed suppressive fire on the enemy positions and ordered his men to fall back. As the platoon moved, an enemy grenade was thrown amid Bowen and three of his men. Bowen shouted a warning and hurled himself on the grenade, absorbing the explosion with his body while saving the lives of his fellow soldiers.

Private First Class Bruce Wayne Carter, U.S. Marine Corps, Vietnam War, Aug. 7, 1969

Carter, who joined the marines in Jacksonville, was attached to Company H in Quang Tri Province when his unit came under heavy fire. Carter and his fellow marines were pinned down until he stood in full view of the NVA soldiers to deliver a devastating volume of fire at their positions. It inflicted several enemy casualties and forced the remainder of the soldiers to retreat. Carter was leading the marines from the path of a rapidly approaching brush fire when he observed a grenade land between him and his companions. He threw himself over the grenade, absorbing the full effects of its detonation. He gave his life in the service of his country.

Staff Sgt. Melvin Morris, U.S. Army, Vietnam War, September 17, 1969

Morris, who lives in Florida, was commander of a Special Forces strike force in the vicinity of Chi Lang when his companies encountered a hostile force. Morris had learned via phone that a fellow commander had been killed near an enemy bunker so he reorganized his men before advancing forward and splitting off with two men to recover the team commander’s body. The enemy concentrated its fire on Morris’ three-man element, wounding both men accompanying him. After assisting them to safety, he charged forward into enemy fire with only his men’s suppressive fire as cover. While enemy machine gun emplacements directed strafing fusillades against him, Morris destroyed the positions with hand grenades and continued his assault, ultimately eliminating four bunkers and retrieving the body of the fallen commander. He was wounded three times as he struggled forward.

Sergeant Ardie R. Copas, U.S. Army, Vietnam War, May 12, 1970

Copas, who joined the army in Fort Pierce, Fl., was a machine-gunner in the 25th Infantry Division during combat operations near Ph Romeas Hek, Cambodia. That morning, when Copas’ company was attacked by a large hostile force, his armored car was struck by an enemy recoilless round, knocking him to the ground and injuring four American soldiers beside the vehicle. Ignoring his wounds, Copas remounted the burning vehicle and began firing his machine gun at the belligerents. He maintained suppressive fire until the wounded Americans were evacuated. He was mortally wounded when another enemy round hit his vehicle.

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith, U.S. Army, Iraq, April 5, 2005

Smith, who grew up in Tampa, was helping to build a POW holding area near Baghdad International Airport when his Task Force was attacked by a larger enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of more than 100 fellow soldiers, Smith organized a defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Smith moved under fire to man a machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. He maintained his exposed position until he was mortally wounded. His actions resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers.

Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller, U.S. Army, Afghanistan, Jan. 25, 2008

Miller, who joined the army in Oviedo, Fl., was serving as the weapons sergeant in a Special Forces detachment during operations in Konar Province, Afghanistan. While conducting a reconnaissance patrol, Miller and his small element of U.S. and Afghan soldiers engaged a force of 15 to 20 insurgents occupying prepared fighting positions. Miller engaged the enemy with his automatic grenade launcher while providing the enemy positions to his command, enabling close air support. Later, as Miller led a squad forward to do a battle damage assessment, a large insurgent force initiated a near ambush, assaulting from elevated positions. Miller was at the front, cut off from support and less than 20 meters from enemy forces. Nonetheless, he called for his men to move back to covered positions as he charged the enemy over exposed ground and under overwhelming enemy fire. Miller was shot in the torso but continued to push the fight, drawing fire from more than 100 enemy fighters. He then again charged forward, allowing his teammates to reach cover. After killing at least 10 insurgents, wounding dozens more, and repeatedly exposing himself to withering enemy fire, Miller was mortally wounded.

Source: Congressional Medal of Honor Society