Prologue Magazine
Winter 1999, Vol. 31, No. 4

Private Harry Fisher's True Identity

Pvt. Harry Fisher was the first marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously "for distinguished conduct in the presence of the enemy at the Battle of Peking, China, June 20th to July 16, 1900." Fisher was killed on July 16 while assisting to erect a barricade under heavy enemy fire. Fisher enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years on May 19, 1899 at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. According to his enlistment paper, Fisher was a brakeman from Pennsylvania with no prior military service.1

In reality, this individual did have prior military service. Harry Fisher turned out to be an alias used by Franklin J. Phillips, a former private in Company M, First U.S. Infantry. During his second enlistment in the U.S. Army, he deserted from Camp A. G. Forse in Huntsville, Alabama, on December 17, 1898. Phillips had caught malaria while serving in Cuba and left his unit to go home for treatment after being refused a sick furlough. On March 6, 1899, a recruiting officer in Pittsburgh telegraphed the Adjutant General in Washington that Phillips was asking to be restored to duty. His unit had already returned to Cuba by this time. The Adjutant General's Office issued Special Order No. 63, on March 17, 1899, ordering by direction of the Assistant Secretary of War, that Pvt. Franklin J. Philips be "discharged without honor from the service of the United States . . . by reason of desertion."2

Phillips joined the Marine Corps two months later and served honorably under the name "Harry Fisher" until killed in action in China. In a letter dated May 6, 1901, Fisher's mother, Mrs. W. C Means, wrote Brig. Gen. Charles Heywood, Commandant of the Marine Corps, requesting that the Marine Corps rolls be changed to reflect her son's true name. The Commandant denied this request in a May 11, 1901, letter stating that "no change can be made in a man's record after his death." Mrs. Means accepted her son's Medal of Honor under the name Pvt. Harry Fisher on August 15, 1901.3

In 1988, after requests from several individuals from Pennsylvania including two congressman, Gen. Alfred Gray, Commandant of the Marine Corps, directed that Pvt. Harry Fisher's records at Headquarters Marine Corps and the National Archives be changed to show his true name, Franklin J. Phillips.4

In 1985, a cargo vessel was christened the MV Private Harry Fisher. In 1988, after it was learned Fisher was an alias, the Maritime Prepositioning Ship was renamed the MV Pvt. Franklin J. Phillips. This vessel is one of thirteen of the Maritime Sealift Command's Maritime Prepositioning Ships specifically designed for transporting U.S. Marine Corps supplies and equipment.

See also this related article:

Notes

1. Harry Fisher File, box 77, Service Records of Enlisted Men, 1867-1904, entry 76, Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, Record Group (RG) 127, National Archives Building (NAB), Washington, DC.

2. AGO Doc Files 214886 & 214886a, Document File, 1890-1917, entry 25, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94, NAB.

3. W. C. Means to Charles Heywood, May 6, 1901, box 220, Letters Received, 1819-1903, entry 10; Heywood to Means, May 11, 1901, Vol. 88, box 20, Press Copies of Letter Sent, 1884-1911, entry 5; Harry Fisher File, entry 76, RG 127, NAB.

4. Harry Fisher File, entry 76, RG 127, NAB.

Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.
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