End of 20-year Wait for Warren County's Only Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Paves the Way for More "Places of Honor" in State Capitol's Soldiers' and Sailors' Grove
Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) had the privilege and honor of serving as master of ceremonies for a special tribute ceremony on Monday that provided a fitting and emotional ending to the 20-year wait to have a memorial marker recognizing Congressional Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Staff Sergeant John Gary Gertsch added to Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Grove at the State Capitol Complex.

Rapp launched her own personal investigation into this matter after making an unscheduled visit to Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Grove in July 2006 and discovering that Warren County’s only Congressional Medal of Honor recipient was not represented. Working together with Pennsylvania House Veterans Affairs Committee Executive Director Rick O’Leary, she was able to uncover that although Gertsch listed Russell, Pennsylvania as his “Home of Record” on all military documents, the Department of General Services denied his right to be honored with a Soldiers Grove memorial marker due to the fact that he entered the service in nearby Buffalo, N.Y., rather than traveling to the next closest enlistment processing center in Pittsburgh.


“As today’s festivities attest, there is a happy ending to a very trivial and unfortunate oversight that has denied Sergeant Gertsch and potentially many other Pennsylvania military heroes their rightful place of honor, here, in Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Grove,” said Rapp during her opening remarks. “On January 17, 2007, I received a letter from Department of General Services Secretary James Creedon officially confirming that Soldiers’ Grove will now be open to all Medal of Honor recipients who list any location in the Commonwealth as their home of record.   Which brings us to today’s ceremony.”


A native of Russell and Sheffield Pennsylvania, Gertsch was mortally wounded on July 19, 1969, while shielding two members of an adjacent unit from enemy fire during combat operations in Vietnam’s A Shau Valley.   In addition to the marker unveiling, which was performed by Rapp, members of the Gertsch family and the event’s keynote speaker Brigadier General Cecil Hengeveld, his highly dedicated service record was also commemorated with a Military Field Cross Ceremony, UH-1 “Huey” Helicopter state Capitol flyover, Taps and a rifle salute.


“On behalf of the Pennsylvania House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, I would like to personally applaud the Department of General Services for generously and overwhelmingly going above and beyond the call of duty to honor their commitment to remedy this discrepancy with the memorial marker we are about to unveil,” said Rapp.


“Lastly and certainly not least, I would like to thank House Speaker Emeritus John Perzel, PA House Speaker Dennis O’Brien, Adjutant General Jessica Wright, Rick O’Leary, Warren County Veterans Affairs Director Edgar Burris and members of the John Gertsch Memorial Home Association for their cooperation and support in making this long overdue victory for Sergeant Gertsch and other, yet to be honored Pennsylvania military heroes possible,” she added.


Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Grove was specifically designated in 1987 to provide a central location to permanently honor Pennsylvania’s veterans of foreign wars. In 1992, former Gov. Robert Casey commissioned the Medal of Honor Memorial to honor Pennsylvania veterans of foreign wars who are recipients of the country’s highest Medal of Honor.   


The Vietnam War, its tragic aftermath and especially each and every military veteran’s heroic sacrifices need to be treated as an integral lesson, rather than an inconvenient afterthought in American history classes,” concluded Rapp. “That is the primary reason why we are here today, to show our enduring thanks and appreciation and to demonstrate that we have not, nor will we ever forget, the sacrifices Staff Sergeant Gertsch made for his friends and family, his fellow soldiers and his country, so far from home.”


Editor’s Note: Staff Sergeant Gertsch’s official Congressional Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:


“Staff Sergeant Gertsch distinguished himself while serving as a platoon sergeant and platoon leader during combat operations in the A Shau Valley. During the initial phase of an operation to seize a strongly defended enemy position, Staff Sergeant Gertsch’s platoon leader was seriously wounded and lay exposed to intense enemy fire.


Forsaking his own safety, without hesitation Staff Sergeant Gertsch rushed to aid his fallen leader and dragged him to a sheltered position. He then assumed command of the heavily engaged platoon and led his men in a fierce counterattack that forced the enemy to withdraw.


Later, a small element of Staff Sergeant Gertsch's unit was reconnoitering when attacked again by the enemy. Staff Sergeant Gertsch moved forward to his besieged element and immediately charged, firing as he advanced.


His determined assault forced the enemy troops to withdraw in confusion and made possible the recovery of two wounded men who had been exposed to heavy enemy fire. Sometime later his platoon came under attack by an enemy force employing automatic weapons, grenade, and rocket fire.


Staff Sergeant Gertsch was severely wounded during the onslaught but continued to command his platoon despite his painful wound. While moving under fire and encouraging his men he sighted an aidman treating a wounded officer from an adjacent unit. Realizing that both men were in imminent danger of being killed, he rushed forward and positioned himself between them and the enemy nearby.


While the wounded officer was being moved to safety, Staff Sergeant Gertsch was mortally wounded by enemy fire. Without Staff Sergeant Gertsch’s courage, ability to inspire others, and profound concern for the welfare of his men, the loss of life among his fellow soldiers would have been significantly greater.


His conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and intrepidity at the cost of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit on him and the Armed Forces of his country.”


Rep. Kathy Rapp
House of Representatives
(814) 723-5203
(717) 787-1367
Contact: Ty McCauslin
House Republican Public Relations
(717) 772-9979