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Marine vets pay respects to McKeesport medal winner

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 3:51 a.m.
Carol Waterloo Frazier | Daily News
Marine Corps League Detachment 797 District 10 vice commandant James Walters places a wreath at the grave of Medal of Honor recipient Franklin J. Phillips.

During the Boxer Rebellion, McKeesporter Franklin J. Phillips was erecting barricades at the U.S. Embassy in Peking, China, when he was killed by heavy enemy fire.

The U.S. Marine Corps private received the Congressional Medal of Honor along with 58 other American servicemen for their actions.

Phillips, under the alias of Harry Fisher, was the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously “for distinguished conduct in the presence of the enemy at the Battle of Peking, China, June 20th to July 16, 1900.”

The Marine Corps League Detachment 797 District 10 placed a wreath at Phillips' grave in the McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery on Wednesday. Fourteen Marine veterans, including two from World War II, attended the ceremony, which included a prayer by chaplain Vic Capets, a reading by Sergeant-at-Arms Stephen Paulovitch, an Honor Guard and 21-gun salute.

During the ceremony, Paulovitch said the Marine “left no one except his mother” and gave his military background.

Vice Commandant James Walters, Marine Corps League Detachment 797, Department of Pennsylvania, said the ceremony was to recognize the Medal of Honor recipient.

“That is the ultimate honor you can receive in service for our country and we wanted to honor him for what he did,” Walters said.

Veteran John Ward said the Marine Corps is a brotherhood and the wreath ceremony reflects that closeness.

“Too often we take death for granted, but being in the Marine Corps has taught me to look at death in a different way because your brother has passed. Marines are a strong band of brothers — once a Marine, always a Marine,” he said.

Phillips, born in McKeesport on Oct. 20, 1874, was called to duty in the U.S. Army in 1898. He contacted malaria in Cuba and was sent home to recover on Dec. 17, 1898. When he was well enough to return to duty and asked to be restored to his post, he was dishonorably discharged for desertion.

Two months later, under the name Harry Fisher, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served honorably for five years until he was killed on the last day of fighting in the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising in China from November 1899 to Sept. 7, 1901, against foreign influence in areas such as trade, politics, religion and technology. Members of the Chinese Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists were called boxers by Westerners because of the martial arts and calisthenics they practiced. In June 1900, the Boxers invaded Beijing and killed 230 non-Chinese.

Before the rebellion ended, tens of thousands of Chinese Christians — Catholic and Protestant — were killed.

The Medal of Honor was created during the Civil War and is the highest military decoration presented by the government to a member of the armed forces. Recipients must have distinguished themselves by risking their lives above and beyond the call of duty in action against an enemy of the United States.

Marine Corps League was formed to preserve the traditions of the Marine Corps and promote the ideals of American freedom and democracy. The league volunteers to help current and former Marines and their widows and orphans, and they work to keep the history of the Corps alive by observing event anniversaries.

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or