Headstone fixes error for MOH recipient more than 140 years after rescue
District of Columbia Executive Director of the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs Tammi Lambert, left, and Director of the Department of Behavioral Health Tanya A. Royster, right, unveil the headstone of Medal of Honor recipient Joseph B. Noil during a ceremony Friday, April 29, 2016, at St. Elizabeths Hospital Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Noil received the Medal of Honor while serving on USS Powhatan, but his headstone did not recognize his award because of a misprint on his death certificate.Nearly forgotten, a sailor’s heroics are now forever etched in stone
ERIC LOCKWOOD/U.S. NAVY
By John Kelly Columnist
April 26, 2016
When Joseph Benjamin Noil started to lose his mind, it was agreed that the best place for him was the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. That’s where the Navy sailor went on June 3, 1881.
“Paralysis” was the vague diagnosis. Today we might call it post-traumatic stress disorder. Noil did little more than stare into the distance.
Living in New York City and working to support their two daughters, Noil’s wife, Sarah Jane, was too poor to visit him, but she wrote the hospital regularly to check on his condition.
Joseph Noil was a hero. He joined the Navy in 1864, possibly earlier. On the day after Christmas in 1872, he was aboard the USS Powhatan, a side-wheel steam frigate, off Norfolk. A boatswain named Walton fell from the forecastle into the ice-cold water and was swept under the bow.
Upon hearing the cry, “Man overboard!” Noil bolted from below deck, took the end of a rope and leapt into the sea. He caught Walton and held him until a boat came to their rescue.
For this gallant conduct, Noil was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Noil was unusual for many reasons. He was Canadian. And he was black.
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