Pennsylvania National Guard honors famed black Civil War-era Guardsman, bestows namesake medal on 3 members

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andria J. Allmond
  • 111th Attack Wing Public Affairs
Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard participated in daylong events recognizing the accomplishments of assassinated civil rights activist and Civil War-era Pennsylvania Army National Guardsman, Maj. Octavius V. Catto, Feb. 21 here.

Catto, an educator with what is now Cheney University here, racial-equality activist and the highest-ranking black officer with the Pennsylvania National Guard at the time, was gunned down near his home in 1871 as he prepared to muster Guardsmen to quell civil unrest during a contentious political election.

Col. Michael Regan, Jr., commander of the 111th Attack Wing Mission Support Group at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania, was the keynote speaker during a morning wreath laying ceremony held at the Starr Gardens Community Center, 6th and Lombard Streets, here. This year's event marks two decades of the observance.

"In the Air Force and Air National Guard, we live by three core values: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do," said Regan. "It's evident that our core values would not be new to him [Catto]. He lived those values and then some. He spent a lifetime exemplifying those values and died as a Pennsylvania National Guard officer--defending those very values."   

Later that day, community members joined with Pennsylvania National Guardsmen and distinguished visitors to laud three of its members with the Major Octavius V. Catto Medal, at the Union League of Philadelphia.

The medal, now in its fourth year of being ceremoniously presented by the Pennsylvania National Guard, was presented by Deputy Adjunct General-Air, Brig. Gen. Tony Carrelli, Joint Force Headquarters at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.

"In addition to honoring the memory of Major Catto, this year we will recognize three individuals whose efforts go above the beyond the already lofty expectations we have for our service members," said Carrelli. "Most service members are too humble to find joy at being singled out for what they do, but [this year's recipients] have earned it."

Lt. Col. Missy Papakie, 171st Air Refueling Wing public affairs officer, from Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, Maj. Frank Junkin of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team's Recruiting and Retention Battalion at Fort Indiantown Gap and Staff Sgt. Melvyn Mayo, Medical Battalion Training Site instructor and writer at Fort Indiantown Gap, all embodied the ideals of Catto, said Carrelli.

Each Guardsman was acknowledged for deeds that personified great public service and support for the community.

Papakie's extensive civic engagement, enhancement of military-mission accomplishment and involvement in a volunteerism garnered her one of the three medals. Junkin's history of fostering a positive work environment, exemplifying professionalism, as well as his involvement in raising more than $42, 185 in support of wounded warriors and associated programs also earned him the medal citation. Similarly, Mayo's outstanding deeds, such as being part of a team that won the Army's Best Medic Competition, his vast training experience and philanthropic endeavors, all played a part in his selection as an award recipient.

Mayo expressed surprise and gratitude for his selection in earning the prestigious citation.

"It's a huge honor--it's actually kind of overwhelming," said Mayo. "You go around and just live your life trying to do the best you can, to be the best person that you can, and to have that become something like [being awarded this medal] is huge.

"Many people helped me earn this medal," said Mayo. "My mother, who taught me to live by the golden rule, my wife Ashley for all her support and the strength I get from my sister all helped me become who I am. Also, I owe a debt of gratitude to my mentor and the rest of the command at the medical battalion training site."

Junkin compared the Major Octavius V. Catto Medal to the Army core value of loyalty.

"This medal, just like Major Catto, represents loyalty--loyalty to those who served before us and made our time in service now possible," said Junkin.  "Without the brave men and women who served in the past, we wouldn't be here today. That's why being awarded this specific medal is so overwhelming."

This year marks the fourth time since the death of Catto that the medal named after him has been awarded to a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard. After his death in 1871, the Pennsylvania National Guard and Brig. Gen. Louis Wagner, commander of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 5th Brigade during the Civil War, issued the medal in memory of the martyred hero.

"Today, 144 years after his [Catto's] death, we celebrate his life and accomplishments by presenting these outstanding Army and Air Guard members the Major Octavius V. Catto Medal," said Carrelli. "Our country is blessed to have these heroes like [Papakie, Junkin and Mayo]. It is a privilege to wear the uniform [alongside them] and serve with individuals of this caliber." (Editor's Note: Master Sgt. Christopher Botzum, 111th Attack Wing public affairs, contributed to this story)