Amputee Sailor Earned the Medal of Honor and Served in Both World Wars

Edward Allen Gisburne Sr., the Milton, Mass. sailor, earned the Medal of
Honor, the country’s highest award for valor.

“God alone can properly reward the sacrifices of life and limb and
model commitment rendered by the Gisburne Family – and especially by
Eddie, who lost not only his leg but his decorated son in service to his
country – and who not only performed with exemplary valor in one war, but
served admirably in two world conflagrations after that,” William P. Fall
wrote in the Milton Historical Society’s Spring 2007, newsletter.

Edward Allen Gisburne Jr. perished when the Japanese shot down his
bomber in World War II.


Born in Providence, Rhode Island’s capital, Gisburne Sr. joined the
Navy in 1910 at the age of 18 years.

He was the chief radio operator on the battleship U.S.S. Florida when
the dreadnought was part of a U.S. fleet that attacked Veracruz, Mexico, on
April 21, 1914, in retaliation for the arrest of U.S. sailors at Tampico,
Mexico, shortly before. Gisburne was sent ashore to establish a communication
hookup between invading marines and sailors and the ships in the harbor.

  Edward Allen Gisburne Sr. received the Medal of Honor for bravery in his profession.
  Edward Allen Gisburne Sr.
received the Medal of Honor for bravery in his profession.
  Image: Wikimedia Commons

Dodging bullets from the town’s defenders, he and Marine Private
Daniel Haggerty went to a hotel to set up radio equipment on the roof.
Immediately, they came under intense fire.

Fall quoted from a 1942 Boston Sunday Post article by
writer-artist Bob Coyne: “So heavy was the beating of bullets that
Gisburne was knocked down. As he rose to his feet, he saw Haggerty slump and
fall so that part of his body dropped beyond the edge of the roof …
Without thought of [the] heavy fire he rushed toward the wounded marine. But
rebels had the place spotted. Bullets seemed to be all about him and he pitched
forward. The roar in his ears was so terrific that it seemed as though worlds
were tumbling about him and pains stabbed his body.”

“It was an ugly sight and of course especially painful, but
Gisburne ignored his own great need. Close by was one whose need was greater.
Somehow Gisburne dragged himself the short distance; but even that effort
almost cost his life,” Coyne continued. “It took his last ounce of
strength and his hands, from which the flesh had been torn, showed how much
those few feet cost.”

Medal of Honor

In great pain, Gisburne reached the wounded Marine who “was torn
with bullets,” Coyne wrote. “Yet when Gisburne dragged his broken
body from its perilous position, there was a quiver of recognition in those
almost sightless eyes as though he [Haggerty] were grateful. Out of the path of
fire, Gisburne dragged the wounded man into a shelter on the roof.”

For a brief period, Haggerty quietly rested in Gisburne’s arms.

“Then as though he were weary he drifted into the mystery and the
silence. But even before he had passed, Gisburne slipped into unconsciousness.
There they found them: the dead body of a marine at rest in the arms of a
blue-jacket who was close to the end himself.”

According to Coyne, all Gisburne said after he was rescued was,
“Haggerty was brave. I saw him shooting it out. He never drew back.”
Fall added that Gisburne “was mute regarding his own selfless heroics. But
the … Medal of Honor awarded him by the President of the United States, on
June 15 the same year, compensated for young Gisburne’s personal

Gisburne’s Medal of Honor citation praised him “for
extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession.”

“Such uncommon bravery, especially at the cost of a limb, would be
far more than enough service for one man to his country,” Fall wrote.
“As his commanding officer said of him: ‘He is entitled to every
consideration from his countrymen and his country.”

Back in action

The Navy discharged Gisburne in August, 1914, the month World War I
broke out in Europe. As the United States edged closer to entering the conflict
in the spring of 1917, “young men, eager to go over there, to fight in a
great cause,” began lining up at recruiting stations. “Among those
waiting at one Boston [navy] station was a young man: he was tall and
well-built, but he had only one leg,” Coyne wrote. “The one-legged
lad was 21-year-old Edward A. Gisburne.”

“Some of the enlistees waiting in the queue could only smile at his
magnanimous spirit, thinking that no one with so serious a physical impairment,
after all, could really expect he may be considered for military
assignment,” Coyne said. “Those who had been amused were amazed at
what followed. The officer, noting a Medal in Gisburne’s lapel, rose to
his feet.”

“‘It is a rare occurrence to meet one who has merited the
Congressional Medal of Honor,’ he said. ‘You are probably one of the
youngest to have ever received it. And I consider it a privilege to greet

Fall explained that not even a Medal of Honor could land an amputee back
on active duty. But Gisburne received a waiver directly from Josephus Daniels,
secretary of the Navy.

Coyne wrote that six generations of Gisburne’s family were sailors,
going back to the Civil War. Gisburne said he would not allow a 3-day battle in
Mexico and the loss of a leg define his total service. “I couldn’t
break with tradition,” Coyne quoted Gisburne. “I knew there was a
place for me.”

After the war

His place was handling communications between shore and ships in the
Atlantic Ocean during World War I, according to Fall.

“Whatever I do, let me do it my way. I am not a cripple,”
Gisburne insisted.

Promoted to lieutenant, junior grade, Gisburne took part in a special
mission after the war ended. He was in the crew of the U.S.S. Washington, the
transport ship that carried President Woodrow Wilson to France to join other
Allied leaders in hammering out the final peace settlement with the defeated

Back stateside again, Gisburne left the navy via medical discharge in
1920. He returned to Milton and got married. The couple had two sons.

Gisburne continued to lead an active life, taking up golf and winning
several trophies, Coyne wrote. He had worked at several jobs and served on the
school board by the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and
plunged the United States into World War II.

“Friends believe that only armed force will keep Edward Sr., from
once again taking his place in the list of recruits,” Coyne wrote.

Indeed, Gisburne and both his sons volunteered for military service.
Edward Sr. was 50 years old, but the Navy took him again. He served as a
lieutenant at a naval air station in his native Rhode Island.

After the war, Gisburne and his wife settled in Duxbury, Mass. He died
in the Chelsea, Mass. Naval Hospital in 1955 at the age of 63 years. He is
buried in Milton; a bronze Medal of Honor plaque marks his grave.

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