Adolphus W. Greely

Born March 27, 1844, in Newburyport, MA, he was twice rejected before joining the 19th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at age 17. He rose to 1st sergeant in the next two years and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the 81st United States Colored Infantry in March 1863. Promoted to 2nd lieutenant in the 36th Infantry Regiment of the Regular Army in 1867, was reassigned to the 5th Cavalry Regiment.

Although he had no arctic experience, in 1881, he commanded the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition on the ship Proteus. The goals were to establish a meteorological-observation station and search for the USS Jeannette. They made significant discoveries along the coast of Greenland, the group was in great danger when two supply parties failed to reach them. Forced to abandon their camp and move south, they were again disappointed when supplies did not materialize. By the time a rescue operation reached them in 1884, 19 of the 25 men had died.

In 1887, President Grover Cleveland promoted him from captain directly to brigadier general and named him the Army’s Chief Signal Officer. In this role, he oversaw the construction of roughly 18,000 miles of telegraph lines to Cuba, the Philippines and, under very rough conditions, Alaska.

He is the only person to receive the Medal of Honor for a lifetime of achievements. He died October 20, 1935, in Washington, D.C. and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1986, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor. The USS General A.W. Greeley and Fort Greeley, the Big Delta Air Force Base in Alaska, are named for him.

Citation: For his life of splendid public service, begun on 27 March 1844, having enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army on 26 July 1861, and by successive promotions was commissioned as major general 10 February 1906, and retired by operation of law on his 64th birthday.