France Silva

France Silva

Private France Silva (May 8, 1876–April 10, 1951) born in Haywards, California, was the first Marine of Mexican-American and Hispanic heritage to receive the Medal of Honor. He received the Medal of Honor for his meritorious conduct in China during the Boxer Rebellion.

Medal of Honor action

In 1900, Private France Silva was a member of the Legation Guards (Marines) under the command of Captain Newt Hall, aboard the USS Newark. The USS Newark was a United States Navy protected cruiser, the first modern cruiser in the U.S. fleet. On May 20, 1900, the Newark sailed for China to help land allied troops to assist civilians within the legations which came under siege by the Boxers at Peking. Arriving Tientsin on May 22.

Silva joined the Marine Corps on September 12, 1899, in San Francisco and attended Boot Camp at Mare Island. He was assigned to the U.S. Flag Ship Newark where Private Daniel Joseph Daly (future double Medal of Honor recipient) was already a member. The Newark soon headed to the Philippenes, but were then sent to Japan to prepare for a landing at Taku, Tientsen and Peking. They arrived in Peking on May 31 before the Boxers closed the city off from the world.

As Captains John T. Meyers and Newt Hall, USMC, - under the command of Captain Bowman McCalla, USN, in the lead position of the allies, the all Europen Brass Band played, "It'll be a hot time in the old town tonight." They had their last really good meal for a couple of months but also immediately posted guard. Captain Meyers had given the command, "Fix, Bayonets," just before their approach. Edwin Conger, the lead U.S. Diplomat (and former Army officer) said to Meyers, "Thank God you are here. Now we are safe."

On June 19, 1900, the 1st Regiment (Marines) under Major Littleton Waller, USMC, attempted to take the city of Tientsin and failed. Then on June 23, the Regiment, under the command of Major Waller, was able to enter Tientsin in their second attempt and force the Chinese forces to retreat to Peking. Private France Silva, several other Marines and two sailors, Navy Seamen Axel Westermark and Chief Machinist Emil Peterson earned the Medal of Honor in their defense of the civilian compound (legation) at Peking. They defended the walled city from June 28 until the fall of the city which occurred on August 17.

In accordance to a newspaper article:

"The USS Newark placed ashore a contingent of Marine and three bluejackets (sailors) as a legitation guard. These men and later another detachment of Marines, soldiers and sailors joined the troops of other western countries and Japan in the defense of other Peking legations against the Boxers until the arrival of the Allied Forces in August.

According to the Journal of Pvt. Oscar J. Upham, USMC, (Upham called his journal the "Siege of Peking") on July 1, "Pvt. Silva of the Newark guard (detachment) volunteered to go and assist them (others on the Tartar Wall) and was hit in the arm making a very bad wound." Several others had been seriously wounded and some killed during this skirmish. According to documents in the National Archives and Records Administration the bullet entered Pvt. Silva's left elbow and bounced off his sternum. He was medically discharged in January 1901 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA. On December 31, 1901, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, also at Mare Island (Medal of Honor Society). No offical record has been found concerning when and where he recieved the Medal.

Captain Newt Hall, USMC, was Pvt. Silva's Commanding Officer aboard the Newark. Hall retired as a Colonel and many years later (1930's) wrote an account of the Siege of Peking. Of all the Marines under his charge he noted that Silva's was the "most interesting." Even though Pvt. Silva was badly injured (he couldn't hold his rifle because his elbow had taken the bullet and it passed through his arm and bounced off his sturnum), he and several other Marines attempted to return to the Wall for action. Captain Hall ordered them back to (Sick Bay).

Silva refused telling the captain that if he would take Silva's rifle and the captain give him his pistol he could "take of myself." Silva remained on duty for at least a day relieving Marines and others on the Wall giving them a "much needed rest."

Pvt. Silva's immediate Commanding Officer was Capt. Newt Hall. Hall was under the command of Capt. John T. Myers. Myer's and his detachment were on the USS Oregon (Upham Journal).

Medal of Honor citation

Private, U.S. Marine Corps
July 19, 1901
G.O. Navy Department, No.55
In the presence of the enemy during the action at Peking, China, 28 June to 17 August 1900. Throughout this period, Silva distinguished himself by meritorious conduct.


France Silva died on April 10, 1951 and is buried in Sunset Hill Cemetery in Corning, California.

Awards and Recognitions

Among France Silva's decorations and medals were the following:

See also





"Siege of Peking" (Journal of Pvt. Oscar J. Upham, USMC.), Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D. C. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D. C. Medal of Honor Society.

External links

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