FRANKLIN J. PHILLIPS
Excerpts from article published in San Diego Union-Tribune on 5/28/2017:
MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT
As far as his fellow Marines knew, PVT Harry Fisher wasn’t his real name. It was the name inked on Marine Corps documents, through his initial training and through his death in China during the Battle of Peking in 1900. What the Marine Corps didn’t know was his real name: Franklin J. Phillips, born October 20, 1874, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Phillips had enlisted into the U.S. Army several years before he donned a Marine Corps uniform and had re-enlisted for a second hitch. His adventures as a soldier took him at one point to Cuba, returning in 1898 from the Caribbean island, Phillips had contracted malaria. At Huntsville, Alabama, he pressed to get a sick furlough but was denied. So, on December 18, 1898, he left the camp, staying away long enough to be declared officially a deserter. Three months later, Phillips showed up at an Army recruiter’s office, intent on rejoining his Army unit. But it was too late. His infantry company already was back in Cuba. The Army wasn’t happy and accused him of desertion and on March 17, 1899, he was “discharged without honor.”
Two months later, Phillips concocted a plan to rejoin the military, under a different name – Harry Fisher. A year later, Fisher found himself among Marines sent to China’s capital of Beijing. An uprising led by mostly poor, peasant groups, known as “Boxers,” sought to rid China of foreign interests. The main foreigners targeted were from the United States, Japan and six other Western countries. The Marines’ deployment came amid a bolstering of foreign troops, assigned to each country’s Legation Guard. Historical records are thin in details about Fisher’s specific action. According to his Medal of Honor citation, amid the fighting on July 16, 1900, while “assisting in the erection of barricades during the action, he was killed by the heavy fire of the enemy.” After his death, Fisher was one of 59 Medal of Honor recipients who fought in the Boxer Rebellion, and the only posthumously awardee, and the first Marine ever to receive the medal for combat valor.
In a letter dated May 6, 1901, Phillips mother asked the Marine Corps commandant to change the service records to reflect her son’s actual name. A response letter dated May 11, 1901, stated, “no change can be made in a man’s record after his death.” That record remained uncorrected for years, even in 1985 when the Navy officially christened a military cargo ship the MV PRIVATE HARRY FISHER. But in 1988, the then Marine Corps commandant ordered that PVT Fisher’s official military record be changed to reflect his name as “Franklin J. Phillips.” The Navy soon followed suit, renaming the container ship as MV FRANKLIN J. PHILLIPS.
MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty from 20 June 1900 to 16 July 1900. Private Phillips served in the presence of the enemy at the Battle of Peking, China. Assisting in the erection of barricades during the action, he was killed by the heavy enemy fire. By his courageous actions, indomitable spirit, and complete dedication to duty, Private Phillips reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
NOTE: PVT Franklin J. Phillips is interred in Versailles Cemetery in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.
Submitted by CDR Roy A. Mosteller, USNR (Ret)