WW II Medal of Honor recipient remembered, honored March 25

Presentation of the colors of the U.S. over the centuries as part of the Medal of Honor commemoration ceremony. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Perhaps you know or have heard of a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. Members of the United States Armed Forces who, during wartime, exhibit exceptional bravery, integrity and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty at great personal risk, are eligible to receive the Medal of Honor. It is the highest U.S. military honor awarded.

On Dec. 21, 1861, just months after the start of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress authorizing the production and distribution of the Medal of Honor to those individuals who distinguish themselves in battle, risking their lives in their country’s service. Since then, almost 42 million men and women have served in the armed forces. Less than 3,500 individuals have received the Medal of Honor from all branches of the Military, with more than 620 awarded posthumously.

Second Lieutenant Paul F. Riordan was one of them. He was killed during the Battle of Monte Cassino on Feb. 8, 1944, after exhibiting “extraordinary heroism in the face of almost certain death.”

In 1990, an Act of Congress designated March 25 of each year National Medal of Honor Day. On March 25, 2018, Second Lieutenant Riordan was commemorated in a ceremony at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, where he and many of his family are buried.

The event was a joint ceremony of nine Kansas City area military lineage, history and veteran organizations, including the Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, Children of the American Revolution, the Society of the War of 1812, United States Daughters of 1812, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, VFW Post 8100 Ladies Auxiliary and Bugles Across America. Representatives were clad in period uniforms and the American flags presented during the ceremony contained 13 stars, 15 stars, 36 stars and today’s 50 stars. The Missouri flag was also part of the color guard.

Carrying flags in the military-style Pass and Review ceremony were members of the lineage, history and veterans’ organizations, among them Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus Dirk Stapleton, a major in the Army Reserves.

Second Lieutenant Paul F. Riordan was born in Charles City, Iowa, on Nov. 8, 1920, one of eight children of Herbert F. and Orpha J. Riordan. Paul enlisted in 1940, training with the Iowa National Guard, before assignment to Company L, 133rd Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, U.S. Army. They sailed overseas in May 1942, the first American division deployed to Europe in World War II, where it fought in the Italian Campaign with great distinction.

On 24 January 1944, during the First Battle of Monte Cassino, they pushed across the Gari River into the hills and attacked the rear of Monastery Hill, the site of the Abbey of St. Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Order of St. Benedict, which dominated the town of Monte Cassino. While they nearly captured the objective, in the end their attacks on the monastery and the town failed. The performance of the 34th Infantry Division in the mountains has been called one of the finest feats of arms carried out by any soldiers during the war. Eventually, it took the combined force of five Allied infantry divisions to finish what the 34th nearly accomplished on its own. Eleven of their number received the Medal of Honor.

Riordan’s Medal citation detailed his actions: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. In the attack on the approaches to the city of Cassino on February 3, 1944, Second Lieutenant Riordan led one of the assault platoons attacking Hill 175”(the site of abbey). “Continuing the assault into Cassino itself on Feb. 11, 1944, …Riordan and his platoon were given the mission of taking the city jail house, one of the enemy’s several strongpoints. Again, Second Lieutenant Riordan took the lead and managed to get through the ring of enemy fire covering the approaches and reached the building. His platoon, however, could not get through the intense fire and was cut off. Second Lieutenant Riordan, aware that his men were unable to follow, determined to carry on single handed, but the numerically superior enemy force was too much for him to overcome, and he was killed by enemy small-arms fire after disposing of at least two of the defenders. [His] bravery and extraordinary heroism in the face of almost certain death, were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the U.S. Armed Forces.”

He also received the Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal (Europe/African/Middle Eastern Campaign), World War II Victory Medal and the French Croix de Guerre, WW II.
Second Lieutenant Riordan was originally buried in the American Battlefield Memorial Cemetery in Italy. Sometime earlier in the war, his family had moved to Kansas City, where the Medal of Honor was presented in his name to his family on Sept. 11, 1944.

In 1948, Archbishop Edwin V. O’Hara of the Diocese of Kansas City blessed and dedicated a new cemetery on the southwest side of the city, Mt. Olivet. The Riordan family purchased a cemetery lot not far from the entrance in Pater Noster Garden. Second Lieutenant Riordan’s body was returned to Kansas City in late Sept. 1948, and on Oct. 2 he was interred in the family plot.

The commemoration ceremony held March 25, 2018, was at the memorial marker near the entrance gate. The Riordan family plot is about 200 yards south of the memorial. After readings of the Pledge of Allegiance, the American Creed, a brief biography of Paul Riordan and the Medal Citation, a proclamation signed by Jackson County Executive, proclaiming March 25 National Medal of Honor Day throughout Jackson County, was read in part. It concluded: Now, therefore, I, Frank White, Jr., County Executive of Jackson County, Missouri…urge all citizens to the fly the American flag and to give a prayer of thanks to Second Lieutenant Paul F. Riordan who fought valiantly in the Second World War, and to all other members of our Armed Forces who also earned the very distinguished Medal of Honor as they fought in the name of Freedom.”

At the end of the ceremony, wreaths were laid at the memorial marker, followed by a three-volley gun salute. Taps was played by a bugler, the colors retired and attendees dispersed.

Second Lieutenant Riordan is one of the 78 Medal of Honor recipients buried in the state of Missouri.

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September 22, 2018
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