Korean War Gallantry

There was a time when the eastern part of the present state of Mississippi was occupied by the settlers of New France.  As part of the settlement of the French and Indian War, France ceded what is now Hattiesburg to the British, and it was incorporated into the colony of West Florida.  After 1803, significant numbers of settlers began making their way into the unsettled areas of West Florida and territories further west. 

In the 1830s, the United States government began relocating native Americans of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes under the Indian Removal Act, which moved natives from the Southeast to areas west of the Mississippi River.  They and their slaves eventually moved to the Indian Territory in present-day Kansas and Oklahoma.

Hattiesburg, Mississippi, developed at the confluence of the Leaf and Bouie Rivers.  It was founded in 1882 by Captain William H. Hardy, a civil engineer.  The city was incorporated in 1884 with a population of approximately 400 souls.  Originally called Twin Forks, and later Gordonville, the city received its final name of Hattiesburg from Captain Hardy, in honor of his wife, Hattie Hardy.

One son of Hattiesburg was a young man named Henry Alfred Commiskey.  Henry was born on 10 January 1927 to Hugh and Agnes Walsh Commiskey.  Hugh’s grandfather was born in Ireland in 1804 and later immigrated to the United States.  Commiskey (Mac Cumascach) is a prominent Monaghan and Longford surname.

Henry attended Sacred Heart Catholic School in Hattiesburg, founded by Sisters of Mercy in 1900.  He later worked as a brakeman for the Illinois Central Railroad before joining the Marine Corps two days after his 17th birthday on 12 January 1944.  He completed his recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California.

Private Commiskey joined the replacement draft for the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima.  During the battle, Commiskey received gunshot wounds and was evacuated to the United States for medical treatment and recovery.  He later received a letter of commendation in recognition of his “high qualities of leadership and courage in the face of a stubborn and fanatical enemy.

After his return to full duty, Commiskey served as a Marine Corps drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina.  While serving as a DI, the Marine Corps offered Commiskey an officer’s commission, and he accepted.  He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of U.S. Marines on 10 September 1949.

In August 1950, Second Lieutenant Henry Commiskey was sent to the Korean Peninsula with the 1st Marine Regiment, serving under Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller as part of the 1st Marine Division.  While serving in Korea, the Marine Corps promoted Commiskey to First Lieutenant.  In this capacity, Henry Alfred Commiskey became the first U.S. Marine to receive the Medal of Honor during the Korean War.  His citation reads as follows:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a platoon leader in Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, First Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, in action against enemy aggressor forces.  Directed to attack hostile forces well dug in on Hill 85, First Lieutenant Commiskey spearheaded the assault, charging up the steep slopes on the run.  Coolly disregarding heavy enemy machine-gun and small-arms fire, he plunged on well forward of the rest of his platoon and was the first man to reach the crest of the hill, which was his objective.  Armed with only his service pistol, he jumped into a hostile machine-gun emplacement occupied by five enemy troops and quickly disposed of four of the soldiers with his automatic pistol.  Grappling with the fifth enemy soldier, First Lieutenant Commiskey knocked him to the ground and held him until he could obtain a weapon from another member of his platoon and killed the last of the enemy gun crew.  Continuing his bold assault, he moved to the next emplacement, killed two more of the enemy, and then led his platoon toward the enemy’s rear area to rout the remainder of the hostile troops and destroy them as they fled from their positions.  His valiant leadership and courageous fighting spirit served to inspire the men of his company to heroic endeavor in seizing a critical objective and reflect the highest credit upon First Lieutenant Commiskey and the United States Naval Service.

First Lieutenant Commiskey received his Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman at the White House in August 1951.

In September 1951, the Marine Corps selected First Lieutenant Commiskey for flight training at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida.  He received his Naval Aviator wings in June 1953 at Corpus Christi, Texas, and completed jet training at El Toro in California.  In 1954, Commiskey returned to Korea as a pilot with Marine Attack Squadron 212, Marine Aircraft Group 12, First Marine Aircraft Wing.

Captain Commiskey was promoted to major in July 1959.  Between 1960 and 1966, he served as a Recruiting Officer, a tactics instructor, a student company commander, and an executive officer at the Marine Corps Officer’s Basic School, Quantico, Virginia.

Following his retirement from active duty in 1966, Henry moved to Meridian, Mississippi.  Increasingly despondent because of his father’s death in 1969, Henry’s wife returned home from shopping on the evening of 16 August 1971 to find that her husband had taken his own life.  He was 44 years old.

Major Henry A. Commiskey was entitled to the following medals and awards:

  • Medal of Honor
  • Purple Heart Medal (2 Gold Stars)
  • Navy Commendation Medal (Bronze V Device)
  • Presidential Unit Citation (2 Bronze Stars)
  • Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal (2 Bronze Stars)
  • Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Medal (1 Bronze Start)
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Navy Occupation Service Medal (with Asia Clasp)
  • National Defense Service Medal (1 Bronze Star)
  • Korean Service Medal
  • United Nations Service Medal
  • Korean Presidential Unit Citation