Friday, April 29, 2016
(Washington, DC)— District of Columbia Department of Behavioral Health Director Tanya A. Royster, MD, and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs Tammi Lambert today unveiled a new headstone at the grave of Joseph B. Noil, a Medal of Honor recipient buried for decades in the Saint Elizabeths Hospital cemetery under a misspelled name. The new headstone corrects his name and acknowledges his honor.
An African Canadian born in Nova Scotia, Noil enlisted in the U.S. Navy while living in New York. While serving on the USS Powhatan, he saved a drowning shipmate and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in 1872. Seaman Noil continued to serve in the Navy with distinction until he was admitted to Saint Elizabeths in 1881 where he died a year later at age 46. He left behind a wife and two daughters.
Mrs. Bernadette Maybelle Parks Ricks, a fourth generation descendant of Seaman Noil, witnessed the unveiling. Rear-Admiral William Truelove CMM, Canadian Defense Attaché’, representing the Embassy of Canada, Noil’s home country, joined in the ceremony.
“We righted a wrong today and restored Seaman Noil to his rightful place in history,” said Dr. Royster. “We are privileged to have cared for him and so many others who sacrificed for our country.”
Along with Seaman Noil, more than 2,000 veterans from the War of 1812, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Spanish American War, and a Buffalo Soldier from the Seminole War are buried at the Hospital. They were treated for diagnoses that included soldier’s heart, irritable heart, nostalgia, shell shock and battle shock—now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. The Saint Elizabeths cemetery is one of a few places where race didn’t dictate where one was buried with African American and white soldiers from the Civil War buried side by side.
Other participants include Deputy Mayor for Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden, officials from the US Navy, the US Coast Guard, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, and community leaders from Ward 8. The Junior ROTC at Anacostia High School served as ushers.
Seaman Noil is one of 3,497 Medal of Honor recipients—just 89 of whom are of African descent.