Title: Marine Corps Private, Korean Expedition Medal of Honor
Birthdate: 1837
Death Date: December 7, 1890
Plot Location: Naval 2, Row 22, Grave 14, Yeadon, PA. GPS: 39.93662* N, 075.24042* W


Born in Manhattan in 1837, details on Michael’s civilian life are unknown except that he managed to avoid the Civil War entirely before he enlisted with the Marines in August of 1865. His service record is equally mysterious except for a brief action in Korea.

In 1871 Michael was on the USS Colorado, flagship of the Asiatic Squadron. Also on board was the US Ambassador to China who was sent to negotiate trade and political relations with Korea, and to find out what happened to a merchant ship that went missing five years earlier. Korea wasn’t interested in talking, and fired on two ships for invading their territorial waters. A punitive expedition was begun, with Michael being one of 650 Marines going ashore to capture several forts and kill over 200 Korean troops.

The Korean Expedition, as it came to be known, resulted in the loss of only three American lives, but it was another decade before Korea began treaty negotiations. Nine sailors and six Marines, including Michael, were awarded the Medal of Honor. It was the first time it was awarded for actions in a foreign conflict.

His citation reads: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Private Michael Owens, United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism in action on board the U.S.S. Colorado during the capture of Korean forts, 11 June 1871. Fighting courageously in hand-to-hand combat, Private Owens was badly wounded by the enemy during this action.” (War Department, General Orders No. 169, February 8, 1872)

This photo shows the captured Korean commanding general’s flag displayed aboard the USS Colorado in June, 1871.  Michael served 23 years as a private with the Marines, with his last enlistment being with the USS Iroquois in 1888. That same year he was admitted to the Naval Hospital on Mare Island, California, suffering from heart palpitations and a possible aortic aneurysm. He was given a medical discharge on October 9 and admitted to the Naval Home in Philadelphia. In January, 1899 he entered the hospital with “usual symptoms of alcoholic indulgence.”  Michael died at the Home on December 7, 1890.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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