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Fallen WWI Soldier Awarded New York State Senate Liberty Medal

A Troy soldier who was killed in World War One was honored at his gravesite Thursday.

Private John J. Callahan Jr. was the first Marine from Troy, New York killed in World War One. One hundred years after his death, members of his family gathered at his grave at St. Mary’s Cemetery, where Callahan was posthumously awarded the New York State Liberty Medal.

Democratic State Senator Neil Breslin presented the award Thursday morning. The medal is the state’s highest honor.

“It’s my great honor, if I could turn properly, to present the Liberty Medal to John J. Callahan and Connie Lang,” said Breslin to applause.

Before presenting the award, Breslin gave a brief history of Callahan who enlisted while still in high school to assembled family members, Marine veterans, and local officials. 

“He was a young kid, sophomore in high school. And he ends up, he went to marksman school where he got awards as a terrific marksman, but ends up in France ultimately not too far from the end of the war. And is very directly involved in Bellaeu Woods. And many people believe, Marines in particular, that was the pivotal part of the war,” said Breslin.

The Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918 ended in Allied victory.

But it was there that Callahan was shot.

Jim Karam, who is married to Callahan’s great niece, and has worked to share the story of Callahan’s actions, said Callahan, after being mortally wounded in battle, continued to push forward.

“So he got back up, having that mortal wound inflicted, and continued to push. Which is what, not him individually, but collectively, the Marines pushed the Germans out of the woods. Because of actions like that. Because of Marines being tenacious and personal valor, pushing towards the woods. And that’s what he did,” said Karam.

Callahan’s grave marker in St. Mary’s Cemetery is paired with an original headstone from Belleau Wood.

Conrad “Connie” Lang Jr., Private Callahan’s nephew, received the Liberty Medal on his late uncle’s behalf.

“I can remember my grandparents coming up and visiting this grave after their son was buried here. They weren’t maudlin, they didn’t talk about him all the time, but you knew he was in the back of their minds. And  I’m sure every other parent, whoever had a veteran killed in a war, felt the same way and my heart goes out to all of them,” said Lang.

For Breslin, who has served in the State Senate for more than 20 years, it was the first time he was given the opportunity to present a Liberty Medal.

“And I hope to do it again,” said Breslin.

Karam, who was able to secure a Purple Heart for Callahan in 1998, is continuing to push for further recognition from the military.

“So I’m petitioning the government right now. I’ve actually written a letter to Defense Secretary Mattis. So we’re waiting on word for that stuff,” said Karam.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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