On Election Day 1871, a bullet punctured Pennsylvania Militia 5th Brigade Maj. Octavius V. Catto’s heart, killing him within steps of his Philadelphia home. A black Civil War-era officer, professor, minister and political activist, his blood-stained history reveals the sacrifice of fighting for righteousness – and the virtue of resolution.
These qualities – Catto’s qualities – are exemplified in the Major Octavius V. Catto Medal (OVC), which was awarded to two State Guardsmen within the historic halls of The Union League of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Feb. 25.
Air Force Lt. Col. Adam Colombo, 111th Attack Wing chief of aerospace medicine, stationed here and Army Staff Sgt. Travis Goebel, Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site flight engineer instructor, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, were this year’s recipients of the prestigious OVC award.
“When we put on our uniforms, we tell the world what we stand for,” said keynote speaker and the Pa. National Guard Director of the Joint Staff Army Col. David Wood. “And now, when Staff Sgt. Groebel and Lt. Col. Colombo wear their dress uniforms they will wear this medal proudly in honor of Major Octavius Catto and the ideals for which he stood.”
Originally created in the 1880s, the award mysteriously disappeared without record. Then in 2011, it was approved for re-introduction into the Commonwealth's military decorations system. This year’s Airman and Solider are the sixth set of recipients for the medal since its reemergence.
Per the Pa. National Guard regulation for awards and decorations, the OVC is awarded to a Pa. Guardsman who, “…exemplifies professionalism, a sincere devotion to duty support and/or volunteerism to the community, and recognizes and encourages respect for individual diversity.” All these traits must also serve to foster a positive work environment and bolster mission accomplishment.
Wood narrated how both of this year’s recipients qualified for the award.
“When compared against past recipients, the [Army] sergeant here today and going back to Maj. Catto, I just saw myself as doing what I liked and doing it a way that benefited others,” said Colombo.
He continued by explaining how the OVC award personifies the role of a National Guardsman.
“In the National Guard, we are citizens first; but, we integrate into our local community to be ready at a moment’s notice to help the community, help the nation and go abroad, if necessary. We use our assets and our skills as civilians in the Guard, and return that benefit to the community.”
Goebel’s statements paralleled Colombo, in that he felt the medal embodies the dual role of a National Guardsman.
“Being a National Guardsman my entire career, this award means a lot,” said Goebel. “It shows that our State recognizes the Soldiers that are stepping up and not only providing military service, but community service, too.”
Catto, national spokesperson for enfranchisement and civil rights for African Americans in the 1860’s, was killed while defending black Americans at polling places. He led desegregation efforts in Philadelphia and, as a staunch supporter of the Union cause and the Lincoln Administration, worked in the inner circle of Radical Republicans to gain civil liberties.
Wood concluded the event by saying, “Major Catto risked his life, first in the defense of his country and again to see African Americans be able to exercise their right to vote…So today, 146 years after his death, we celebrate his life and accomplishments by presenting this outstanding Army [noncommissioned officer] and this superior Air Guard officer the Major Octavius Catto medal.”