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Pvt. Cornelius J. Leahy

USCIS Fresno Field Office

Image of soldiers in battle on both sides of a river

U.S. Army Private Cornelius J. Leahy was born in County Limerick, Ireland, in June 1872. He moved to San Francisco with his mother, two brothers and two sisters. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article published June 16, 1902,

Leahy had just graduated from the Lincoln Night School and was working as a clerk at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898. He volunteered to serve with the Third Artillery in the Philippines. In 1899, he joined the 36th Volunteer Infantry on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island.

He and another soldier, Corporal James Gillenwater, both earned the Medal of Honor for actions that occurred on September 3, 1899, during operations against the forces of Filipino independence leader Emilio Aguinaldo. Earlier that year, Aguinaldo had declared war on U.S. forces in the Philippines.

Private Leahy’s scout patrol was ambushed in the jungles near Porac, Luzon. “One American soldier was killed and another seriously wounded; both were still lying exposed in the field of action,” says Home of Heroes, a website about Medal of Honor recipients. “Without regard for his own safety, and under the heavy fire of the enemy, Private Leahy and a comrade, Corporal James Gillenwater, rushed into the battlefield to remove the body of their dead comrade and carry the wounded man to safety.”

A commanding general’s report provides more details:

Corporal Gillenwater, with 4 privates Company A, went on a reconnaissance toward Porac and was suddenly fired on from concealment by about 18 Filipinos, 4 miles from camp. Private Doering was killed at the first fire and Private

Rathmanner severely wounded (being shot five times). The remaining two men (one being at time far off on flank and unable to render assistance) stood over their wounded companions, returning the insurgent’s fire, and finally driving them off, killing one and wounding several. Then, leaving Private Leahy in charge of the dead and wounded men, Corporal Gillenwater went for a native cart and brought his dead and wounded into camp.

Private Leahy was killed in action on December 1, 1900. His Medal of Honor was posthumously awarded in 1902. The citation reads: “Distinguished gallantry in action in driving off a superior force and with the assistance of 1 comrade brought from the field of action the bodies of 2 comrades, 1 killed and the other severely wounded, this while on a scout.”

Private Leahy is buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery.

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