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The George Medal and the Order of St. Nicholas Medal

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I wrote an article for Leatherneck Magazine several years back regarding 2 unofficial medals with Marine Corps history in WWII and Iraq, respectively. This was one of my early drafts to the editor. I am a proud recipient of the latter, the Order of St. Nicholas, after a tour in Fallujah as a Marine Corps Field Historian back in 2005 and 2006.


The famous French Emperor and General Napolean Bonaparte once declared "A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon." A European tradition usually reserved for royalty, the wearing of medals was uncommon among US Military personnel until the late 19th century, when civil war soldiers were awarded unofficial badges by local commanders, a practice later formalized by the services as a means to recognize the bravery and accomplishments of a military service member.

Having fallen out of favor since the civil war, the practice of bestowing unofficial awards upon deserving Marines has never completely disappeared. An number of unofficial decorations have been awarded to Marines over the last century, signifying a shared experience or common bond that will never be formally recognized by our Corps. Despite their unofficial status, however, these awards are often more coveted than all others combined.

One such example is the George Medal. Legendary among 1st Marine Division veterans of Guadalcanal, only about 50 were cast in Australia before the mold gave out. According to retired Marine Col. Brooke Nihart, a Navy Cross recipient and historian who recently passed away in August, 2006, the George medal commemorated the difficult situation of the division during the early days on Guadalcanal, when ammunition, food, and heavy equipment were short and the Japanese plentiful. The Marines faced increasing Japanese air attacks and surface action which left the division in a tight spot.

In the recollection of then-Captain Donald L. Dickson, adjutant of the 5th Marines, the Division G-3, then-Lieutenant Colonel Merrill B. Twining, resolved to commemorate the occasion. Twining told Captain Dickson, an aspiring artist, what he had in mind. Captain Dickson went to work designing an appropriate medal using a fifty-cent piece to draw a circle on a captured Japanese blank military postcard.

When the division departed Guadalcanal and finally reached Australia, a mold was made by a local metal craftsman and a small number were cast before the mold became unserviceable. Those wanting a medal paid one Australian pound for it and received a certificate as well. The medals are now an even greater rarity than at the time. In recent years, reproductions have been cast, and can be identified by the different metal and a poor definition of details.

The obverse design of the medal shows a hand and sleeve dropping a hot potato in the shape of Guadalcanal into the arms of a grateful Marine. In the original design, the sleeve bore the stripes of a vice admiral, intended to be either Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, ComSoPac, or Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander Joint Expeditionary Force, but the final medal diplomatically omitted this identification.

Also on the obverse is a saguaro cactus, indigenous to Arizona, not Guadalcanal, but representing the code name for the island, "Cactus." The obverse inscription if Facia Georgius, "Let George Do It." Thus it became known as the George Medal. The medal's reverse is inscribed: "In fond remembrance of the happy days spent from Aug. 7th 1942 to Jan. 5th 1943. U.S.M.C." 1

Much like Lieutenant Colonel Twining, US Marine Corps Major Joseph Winslow hoped to commemorate his wartime experience. However, Major Winslow's would occur nearly 60 years later in 2004, far away from the island of Guadalcanal. Instead of water and jungle, he was surrounded by sand, and the enemy were not Japanese. They were insurgents battling Marines of the First Marine Expeditionary Force - Forward {I MEF (Fwd)} on the streets of Fallujah, Iraq.

As the MEF slowly pushed through the city, then-Captain Winslow recalled the unique, historical significance of the George Medal and was inspired to create a similar award for the small cadre of Marines who'd already served or would soon serve in the unique, but little known billet of Marine Corps Field Historian during Operation Iraqi Freedom. An independent position carried out by only one Marine Reserve Officer or Staff Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) at a time, the forward deployed USMC Field Historians travel throughout the theater, recording the oral histories of Marines engaged in combat operations and combat service support, simultaneously collecting documents and artifacts for archiving at the Gray Research Center and the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico. The oral history collection includes the recollections of both officers and enlisted men, from private to General, and captures important historical incidents as they occur. The collection includes historical recordings from Marines engaged in significant firefights, battles, or counter-insurgency operations, as well as the discussions of senior level Marines and military staffs regarding strategic issues affecting the deployed forces. The Field Historians have documented nearly every

significant event since the start of the war, from the push through Baghdad to the first ever national elections held since the downfall of Saddam.

In the weeks following the battle of Fallujah, Captain Winslow hand sculpted his concept in plaster, pouring a firing mold from concrete and other crude materials found at the MEF headquarters. Winslow based the medals' design upon an Iraqi army badge, with a Marine Corps eagle, globe and anchor super-imposed on a Persian star, surrounded by palm fronds. The colors of the suspending ribbon are scarlet, black and silver, which respectively represent the blood of Marines shed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the lives given in support of their fellow Marines, and the individual Field Historians' fidelity to ensuring history is recorded and never forgotten. Captain Winslow's first prototype of the medal was cast in Fallujah using silver sent from a Texas silversmith. The remaining versions were later cast at home by a Marine Corps Guadalcanal veteran.

Dubbed the Military Order of St. Nicholas, the medal was presented by Major Winslow to 13 previously deployed Field Historians during their 231st Marine Corps Birthday celebration in Fredericksburg, VA, all of whom had served in Iraq or Afghanistan in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Each recipient received a certificate which declared them a "companion" in the Order. The award was named after Colonel Nicolas Reynolds, the former Commanding Officer of the Marine Corps Field History Unit who assembled the first team of Marine Corps Field Historians to deploy to Iraq in support of OIF. Since the start of the war, approximately 15 Marine Corps Field Historians served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Much like the George Medal, the Military Order of St. Nicolas will be shared by a finite group of people for a limited period of time. Worn only at events or gathering attended by members and of the Field History detachment, the Military Order of St. Nicolas will forever serve as a reminder of time spent in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq, watching and recording history in the making.

1. The George Medal - information obtained from the WWII Anniversary Series Monograph, United States Marine Corps Historical Division, date unknown



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