A WAR hero who won the Congressional Medal of Honour has been recognised with a lasting memorial in a north Essex Town.

Dignitaries including the mayors of Wivenhoe and Colchester, members of Wivenhoe's History Society and members of the US Army and Air Force gathered for the special occasion in honour of William Oakley.

Members of the Colchester Watch were also there to raise their pikes to greet attendees as they entered.

The focus of the attention was the white marble gravestone of William Oakley, delivered to Wivenhoe Town Council following efforts by former councillor and RAF Officer Chris Singleton and the town clerk to ensure William’s heroism with the US Navy during the Spanish American War did not continue to go unrecognised.

He is one of only a handful of UK citizens to have been awarded a Congressional Medal of Honour.

William died in Wivenhoe in 1918 but was buried in an unmarked grave in an un-consecrated part of the old cemetery there.


  • Flag - the US Airforce conducted a special ceremony

One of William’s relatives had contacted the Town Council in recent years about the possibility of getting a special Medal of Honor Gravestone to commemorate his courage but little happened until Chris took up the cause.

The ceremony of dedication was introduced by Wivenhoe’s Mayor Bob Needham, and an invocation from the Rev Justin Lunniss followed, it having been established that William had been a member of the Congregational church.

William died without any immediate family and much of his life when he left Britain in the late 1880s to join the US Navy has been pieced together from military records and the census.

Amongst the many guests of honour at the ceremony were William’s gt, gt niece and nephew Suzanne Longley and Peter Oakley.


  • Relatives - William Oakley's gt gt niece and nephew

A bugle solo was followed by an intricate and moving flag presentation by two female officers from the USAF Honor Guard who kindly attended and then presented the specially folded flag to William’s relatives, the gt gt grandchildren of his brother.

William was born in 1857 in Scotland but emigrated to America in April 1880 where he joined the Navy and was sent to fight in the Spanish/American War aboard the U.S.S. Marblehead as a gunner’s mate second class.

During the operation of cutting the cable leading from Cienfuegos, Cuba, 11 May 1898 faced the heavy fire of the enemy and was later given the medal of honour.

He was later promoted to gunner’s mate first class.