At the time of this action, William Robert Button was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in tracking down and killing the Haitian nationalist leader Charlemagne Peralte during the night of October 31—November 1, 1919. Sergeant (later Brigadier General) Herman H. Hanneken was also awarded the Medal of Honor for this action. William Button was promoted to sergeant before passing away from malaria at the age of 25 years.
William Button was born on December 3, 1895 at Saint Louis, Missouri. He was dispatched to Haiti not long after joining the Corps and while in Haiti he commanded a group of Gendarmerie near Grande Riviere when they engaged a group of Haitians opposed to US occupation. By the end of this fighting, Charlemagne Peralte had been killed and 1,200 of his followers killed, captured, or disbursed.
In recognition of risking his life in battle, he along with Sergeant Hanneken was cited for bravery, and recommended for the United States’ highest decoration for bravery, the Medal of Honor. The Secretary of the Navy approved the award on June 10, 1920, and it was presented to Button by the Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps, John A. Lejeune at a ceremony in Washington DC on July 1, 1920. After the ceremony Sergeant Button took a short leave to visit his family before returning to Haiti.
Sergeant Button died of pernicious malaria on April 15, 1921 at the Department Hospital, Cap-Haitien, Haiti … he was just 25 years of age.
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to
CORPORAL WILLIAM R. BUTTON
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
For service as set forth in the following Citation:
For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in actual conflict with the enemy near GRANDE RIVIERE, Republic of Haiti, on the night of October 31 – November 1, 1919, resulting in the death of Charlemagne Peralte, the supreme bandit chief in the Republic of Haiti, and the killing and capture and dispersal of about twelve hundred (1200) of his outlaw followers. Corporal William R. Button not only distinguished himself by his excellent judgment and leadership, but unhesitatingly exposed himself to great personal danger, when the slightest error would have forfeited not only his life but the lives of the detachments of Gendarmerie under his command. The successful termination of his mission will undoubtedly prove of untold value to the Republic of Haiti.