“When you say Medal of Honor winner, who do you automatically think of?” asks Scott County Veterans Services Officer Ron Keeton. “You think of Alvin C. York.”
York, the Fentress County native whose World War I bravery is known far and wide, is in many ways the pride of the Cumberlands. But York isn’t the only Medal of Honor winner from this region. Scott County’s Joseph Samuel Cecil also won the prestigious award. But, for various reasons, his service has gone unrecognized.
“I don’t think people know that we have a Medal of Honor winner here,” Keeton said.
It isn’t that Cecil was never honored. The U.S. Hwy. 27 bridge across New River is named after him.
It was in the New River community that Col. Joseph Cecil was born in 1878. He served in the Spanish-American War as a non-commissioned officer before serving in the Philippine-American War.
It was in the Philippine Islands on March 7, 1906 that Cecil earned the Medal of Honor. He was serving at the head of a column that was launching an assault, and he personally carried a wounded man to a sheltered position, out of the line of fire. He also carried the body of a soldier who was killed beside him to the sheltered position.
Cecil was at that point a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s 19th Infantry, in action at Mount Bud Dajo in the Philippines.
Cecil died on Aug. 20, 1940, after falling out of a window, and was buried in Section 8 of Arlington National Cemetery.
His wife, Caroline Schenck Cecil, died two years later and was buried beside him.
Joseph Cecil was hardly the only member of his family to serve in the military. In fact, the Cecil family is considered one of the most decorated military families in America. The Cecils’ combined service began in the Civil War and lasted through World War II. Judge Beaty Cecil, Joseph’s father, fought in the Civil War and was later the Scott County Judge. All five of Beaty Cecil’s sons served in the military. Commander Henry Barton Cecil, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1910, was killed on the U.S.S. Akron in 1933, and the Jackson, Fla., Naval Air Station is named Cecil Field in his honor. Lt. Col. Tom Cecil fought in World War II, and Col. James J. Cecil fought in both world wars.