Mystery veils Medal of Honor that will be returned to Shawnee family

07/15/2014 12:54 PM

07/15/2014 1:29 PM

A century-old Medal of Honor — mysteriously lost or stolen — will be returned to the family of a former Johnson County man Saturday.

Members of the Quivira Crossing Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution will present William Trembley’s Medal of Honor to surviving members of his family at ceremony honoring him this weekend in Shawnee.

Often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor, it is the country’s highest military award for valor in action against an enemy combatant.

In April 1899, Kansas native William Trembley was dodging bullets as he swam across the Rio Grande de Pampanga on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

Private Trembley and fellow soldier Edward White, both of the Kansas 20th Infantry, were tasked with swimming across the river, securing the other side and tying a rope across the river so the rest of the regiment could safely cross on rafts. The move allowed American troops to flank Filipino insurgents and win the battle, according to information provided by the DAR.

The skirmish was part of the Philippine-American War, a conflict from 1898 to 1902 between the United States, which gained control of the islands from Spain after the Spanish-American War, and Filipino revolutionaries who wanted complete independence.

Trembley and White’s swim earned them both the Congressional Medal of Honor, which was awarded to them in 1902.

The Johnson County-based Quivira Crossing Chapter of the DAR was planning a ceremony for this Saturday to mark the anniversary of Trembley’s death on June 13, 1952. Linda Combs, a Lenexa member of the DAR chapter, was assigned to research Trembley’s genealogy in February in preparation for the ceremony, and that’s when DAR members discovered the medal was gone.

It’s unclear whether the medal was lost or stolen.

Information about Trembley’s postwar life and possible descendants is murky. What is known is that he lived in the Lenexa and Kansas City, Kan., area for most of his life and worked as a clerk and a postmaster in the 1920s and 30s. At some point he moved to McAllen, Texas, where he died in 1952.

An article Combs found from an October 1990 edition of The Kansas City Star listed the medal as stolen from the Wyandotte County Historical Museum, but Combs said the museum has no knowledge of the item ever being in its possession. Combs contacted the Wyandotte Sheriff’s Department, but was told the department doesn’t keep records past 10 years. Then she began searching records for Trembley’s descendants but couldn’t find signs of the medal or anyone directly related to him.

And then the medal turned up in a drawer of some old furniture bought at an auction. How it got there is still a mystery.

“There’s still something missing,” Combs said.

Kaye Watkins, a Wichita DAR member, said Donna Pfitzner, a DAR member from Leavenworth, found the medal in some furniture her mother had bought several years before. Pfitzner and her mother couldn’t be reached for comment, but Watkins said the duo also searched for members of Trembley’s family and tried to give the artifact to the museum at Fort Leavenworth.

Combs learned Pfitzner had a medal with Trembley’s name on it when she sent out invitations earlier this summer to the ceremony honoring the soldier .

“It blew my mind, especially when it was supposedly stolen,” Combs said. “It seems not much was done to find it.”

Because no direct descendants could be found, the DAR has invited distant cousins of Trembley to the ceremony. Combs said brothers Joseph and Steven Trembley of New York and Hutchinson, Kan., respectively, are related to William through their great, great grandfather.

The DAR and officials from Lenexa will present the medal at a ceremony at Trembley’s grave in Monticello Cemetery, 75th Street and Gleason Road, Shawnee, at 2 p.m. Saturday.

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