Medal of Honor Citation

Original General Order

On a quiet Sunday in May 1921, a young Marine was laid to his final rest in his native St. Louis, Missouri. Sgt William Robert Button, 25, recipient of the Medal of Honor, was a veteran of the successful campaign against the supreme bandit chief of Haiti, Charlemagne Peralte, and his thousands of outlaw followers.

The action during which Sgt Button earned the Medal of Honor took place on the night of 31 October - 1 November 1919, near Grande Riviere, Haiti. Informed that the bandit chief, accompanied by about 1200 outlaw followers, had arrived in the vicinity of Capois, Haiti, with the avowed purpose of capturing and pillaging the town of Grande Riviere, Sgt Herman Hanneken (a captain in the Gendarmerie d'Haiti) and Cpl William R. Button (a 1st lieutenant in the Gendarmerie d'Haiti), received permission to execute previously arranged plans for the capture of the bandit chief.

Selecting about twenty gendarmerie, all of whom were appropriately disguised, Sgt Hanneken and Cpl Button took positions that night where they might observe the movements of Charlemagne. After observing about 700 bandits making their way towards Grande Riviere, the decision was made to capture Charlemagne in his camp where he had remained to receive reports of the result of the pending attack upon Grande Riviere. Under cover of their disguises and aided by the darkness, after about three hours of difficult mountain climbing, through a country overrun with bandits, the small force succeeded in passing five of the six outposts guarding the enemy camp.

The sixth outpost was the immediate guard over Charlemagne. Advancing rapidly, Sgt Hanneken and Cpl Button were suddenly halted by two bandits who handled their rifles threateningly. Sgt Hanneken opened fire upon Charlemagne and Cpl Button turned his light Browning machine gun upon the remaining bandits in a surprise attack, killing Charlemagne and about nine of his body guards. The small force met bandit fire throughout the night and later, on their way back to Grande Riviere, withstood and dispersed several bands of outlaws returning from their unsuccessful attack upon the town.

Both Sgt Hanneken and Cpl Button were cited for and received the Medal of Honor. The award was approved by the Secretary of the Navy on 10 June 1920, and presented by the Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps, John A. Lejeune, with appropriate ceremony in Washington, D.C., 1 July 1920. Following a furlough to his hometown of St. Louis, Sgt Button returned to Haiti. Less than a year later, he was killed by a more deadly enemy than the Haitian bandits.

On 5 April 1921, on the day he would have completed the fourth year of his first enlistment in the Marine Corps, he died of pernicious malaria at the Department Hospital, Cape Haitien, Haiti. During his brief career, he had maintained character markings of excellent.

At the request of his father, Sgt Button's remains were returned to St. Louis for burial. He was interred in Valhalla Cemetery there on 29 May 1921, with a complement of Marines from St. Louis acting as honor guard and pall bearers.

His fellow Marines in the Gendarmerie d'Haiti contributed funds for a bronze memorial tablet to be erected at Sgt Button's burial place, and with the remainder of the money directed that flowers be placed on his grave each Memorial Day.

Haitian Campaign 1919-1920 Medal of Honor

Marine Corps University