C. York had nothing on Daniel Edwards, other than, perhaps, an abiding
sense of honesty. Both men were awarded the Medal of Honor to recognize
their gallant actions in World War I, but York's legacy has endured
longer and stronger, partly due to the popularity of the 1941 Gary
Cooper movie, Sergeant York.
But Edwards' stories are the more incredible, even the ones he didn't
Edwards was born in the small rural community of Mooreville,
Texas, about 25 miles south of Waco,
in either 1888 or 1889. According to a 1932 biography by Lowell Thomas,
This Side of Hell: Dan Edwards, Adventurer, Edwards ran away
from home at age 14 to become a cowboy, then moved to New Orleans
where he claimed dual duty as a bouncer and dance instructor at a
local café. He enrolled in the army at Mooreville
in April of 1917 and shipped overseas to fight in World
War I as part of Company C, Third Machine Gun Battalion, First
At the Battle of Cantigny on May 28, 1918, while carrying a machine
gun into position, a German soldier bayoneted him in the wrist. The
rest of his squad died at the battle, but Edwards managed to hold
the position, unyielding even as the Germans used a flame thrower
and an airplane against him. A German solider stabbed him in the stomach
during one attack, but Edwards held fast until reinforcements arrived.
And that's not even the battle that earned him the Medal of Honor.
the hospital recuperating from his wounds, Edwards heard that his
unit was on its way to Soissons. He left the hospital without bothering
to ask permission and hitchhiked to rejoin his old unit. The official
citation for Edwards' Medal of Honor tells the story from there:
"Reporting for duty from hospital where he had been for several weeks
under treatment for numerous and serious wounds and although suffering
intense pain from a shattered arm, he crawled alone into an empty
trench for the purpose of capturing or killing enemy soldiers known
to be concealed therein. He killed four of the men and took the remaining
four prisoner; while conducting them to the rear one of the enemy
was killed by a high explosive enemy shell which also shattered one
of Pfc. Edwards' legs, causing him to be immediately evacuated to
the hospital. The bravery of Pfc. Edwards, now a tradition in the
battalion because of his previous gallant acts, again caused the morale
of his comrades to be raised to a fever pitch."
Because the military prefers not to award the Medal of Honor twice
to the same person for service in the same war, Edwards received the
Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second highest honor,
for his actions at Cantigny. But Edwards had more incredible tales
applying for his military benefits so he could attend Columbia University
he claimed a bachelor's degree from Baylor University, but Columbia's
records showed him as an Aggie from Texas A&M. Edwards claimed to
have played football for both Baylor and A&M without enrolling at
either school when he was a teenager. Later he claimed to have earned
a master's degree in journalism from Columbia, but he never graduated.
Edwards went to work for Warren G. Harding as a press aide and later
as a veteran's affair consultant. Lowell Thomas' biography of Edwards
made him a celebrity, but the book also raised more questions than
it answered. Like how did he find time to go to college and play football
while also serving as a Texas Ranger, joining Pancho Villa in the
Mexican Revolution, getting captured by Mexican Nationals and sentenced
to hard labor at a salt mine where, of course, he escaped and made
his way to Vera Cruz to serve as an observer of the U.S. occupation
The wounds that Edwards suffered in the war left him with only part
of his right arm, a left leg that he had to drag behind him, and a
score of other enduring injuries but he retained a healthy imagination,
claiming that between the two world wars he served as a soldier of
fortune in the Venezuelan navy and the armies of France, Greece and
China. Historians have been sorting through the stories ever since
but haven't found much in the way of collaborating evidence.
In its entry on Edwards, the Texas
State Cemetery website notes: "The events of Medal of Honor recipient
Daniel Edwards' life, from birth to death, are unclear. He was prone
to embellishment, a trait most likely enhanced by his celebrity, and
records from the time he lived are often incomplete, making many of
his claims impossible to disprove and many true events difficult to
Sister-in-law Thelma Thomas recalled Dan Edwards as "a smart likable
fellow" to journalist Thomas E. Turner in 1986 but she also had doubts
about some of her brother-in-law's tall tales.
"We all respected him for what he did in the first war," she said.
"As for all those fantastic other stories he told, we didn't pay much
attention to them. Some of them may have been true, but all of them
couldn't have been. I can't say either way for sure, for instance,
but I don't remember him ever attending Baylor or A&M."
Edwards spent his later years working as a fishing guide in Arkansas.
He died at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Little Rock, Ark.
in 1967 at the age of 70. Time and subsequent research has done little
to clear up the discrepancies in his many stories.
A 1990 article in Annals: Official Publication of the Medal of
Honor Historical Society ran under the headline: "Daniel Edwards
-Hero or Hoax?"
He was both.