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NY National Guard Captain helps replace lost Medal of Honor

By Timothy Jones | New York National Guard | Dec. 2, 2019

BEREA, OHIO – It took three years of writing letters, filing forms and cutting through red tape, but thanks to New York Air National Guard Capt. Jason Cole, the actions of a World War I Soldier are being commemorated again in Berea.

Cole, a member of the 224th Air Defense Group at the Eastern Air Defense Sector based in Rome, N.Y., is the great-nephew of 2nd Lt. Albert Baesel, a Berea native who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in World War I.

Baesel, a member of the Ohio National Guard's 148th Infantry Regiment, was killed while attempting to rescue a wounded Soldier under fire.

For years, his medal was on display at American Legion Post 91, which is named in Baesel's honor. The medal went missing in the 1980s and the Army refused to replace it.

So Cole and his father, Gary Cole, got involved.

"The Legion had been named after my great, great uncle for 100 years and I wanted to help the organization," Cole said. "I also wanted to honor Albert's legacy. Medal of Honor recipients are heroes, and every one of them should have their story told, and retold, for many, many generations."

The Coles first tried working with the Army through the Legion, but the Army refused the Legion's request. So the family contacted the Army directly.

"We discovered the regulations limit replacement requests to spouses, parents and direct descendants," Cole said. "Since my great, great uncle did not have children, it took some time to convince the Army that we were the closest thing he had to a direct descendant."

After 80 e-mails, numerous phone calls and an estimated 100 hours researching regulations and family genealogy, the Coles were able to make their case.

In October, the Army Human Resources Command Awards and Decorations Branch at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, awarded a replacement medal, which Cole presented to the post on Nov. 18 during a ceremony at Berea's City Hall.

Cole told the group at the presentation that the medal represents a legacy.

"When the military salute, we don't salute people; we salute ideals, the things they represent," he said. Military members salute the flag, higher-ranking military and the office of the president. The president salutes no one except those who have received the Medal of Honor," Cole said.

There are four criteria to receive the medal, Cole said: two eyewitnesses, outstanding gallantry beyond the call of duty, risk of life and a deed of such bravery and self-sacrifice that it can be justified beyond all criticism.

"A moment like that happened 101 years ago," Cole said. "A Berean was killed, but a hero was born."

Air Force veteran Mel Baher, past commander of Post 91, accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of the post's 100th anniversary.

Post 91 was founded Sept. 5, 1919, by 20 World War I veterans. The Berea City Council presented the post with a special resolution marking the anniversary.

"We would all put on our uniforms again and defend our great country," Baher said. "We will carry on the tradition. We'll be here another 100 years."

Gary Cole said the family would work with Post 91 and the Berea Historical Society to work out a security plan for the medal. Army regulations governing Medal of Honor public displays require 24-hour surveillance – or a central alarm system – and a display case that is unbreakable, bulletproof and weatherproof.

The Baesel family will hold a reunion next year that will include an open house for the community to view the Medal of Honor.

Baesel is buried in Woodvale Cemetery. On the 100th anniversary of his death, the City of Berea and the city's Veterans Outreach Office dedicated a plaque to him on the downtown Triangle's clock tower.

Cole said his family was proud to bring the Medal of Honor to Post 91 and the community "to commemorate the next 100 years."

Linda G. Kramer, from the City of Berea's communications office, assisted with this story.