Family adds Medal of Honor to their pride and legacy

Joseph B. Noil's bravery is remembered in ceremony

Bernadette Ricks behind Noil's headstone

Bernadette Ricks behind Noil’s headstone

Saint Elizabeth’s East Campus Cemetery has a brand new headstone. It marks the burial spot of Medal of Honor recipient Joseph B. Noil, who was awarded the medal in 1873 for jumping into icy water at Norfolk Harbor to save a shipmate that had fallen overboard the USS Powhatten.

When Noil was buried in 1882, he was buried under a headstone that misidentified him as “Joseph B. Noel,” with no acknowledgement of his award.

The Navy Veteran’s story was unraveled by the Medal of Honor Historical Society, which inspired a blog post that caught the attention of Will Carpenter, a longtime Veteran of the U.S. Merchant Marines. Carpenter began the search for Noil’s decedents. That effort led to the discovery of Bernadette Ricks, Noil’s great-great-great granddaughter.

Ricks was able to attend the April 29 ceremony to dedicate Noil’s headstone correcting both his last name and recognizing him as a Medal of Honor recipient.

Ricks receiving flag from Vice Admiral Robin Braun

She only recently learned of her great-great-grandfather’s history when she was contacted by Carpenter.

“It’s such a humbling experience that he was such a man that he did all this,” said Ricks. “That people so many years later still appreciate what it is that he’s done.”

Ricks and her daughter were seated in front of the grave site for the revealing of the headstone. Wreaths were laid, and Ricks was given a folded flag in honor of Noil.

“I can’t tell you how much this flag means to me,” she said.

VAntage Point applauds the efforts of all those who worked to ensure that Seaman Noil will never be forgotten and that his family now knows the true nature of his character and service to America.

For more photos from the event, visit our Flickr album.

Editor’s note: Through the National Cemetery Administration, VA furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible Veteran in any cemetery around the world, regardless of their date of death. Learn more here.


Timothy Lawson

Timothy Lawson has been a member of VA’s Digital Media Engagement team since April 2016 and is the host of VA’s official podcast, Borne the Battle. He graduated from American University’s School of Communications in 2016 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Tim is a Marine Corps Veteran having served as a Marine Security Guard posted at embassies in Algeria, Russia, and Peru.


  1. Peter M.Olsen    

    It is not only with the VA, but with practically every government agency and private company. Why you might ask, is because the emphasis on hiring is for grade school dropouts and hamburger flippers only. I too served my country very honorable for over five years. Lucky for me I did not succumb to the lies of the oligarchy and got out honorably before
    that needless killing of all those young Americans and innocent Vietnamese began.

    President John F. Kennedy tried to keep us out of Vietnam but was overridden by Allen
    Dulles and his good fellas. LBJ was part of that gang too!
    I am working on a novel about that time and I don’t care who I mght hurt.

    Fred Roberts has proof that he earned that ‘Purple Heart’. Why does the VA want to deny a dying veteran of a lttle piece of medal and ribbon?

  2. James Brock    

    OK, I applaud those who are doing what is right in this VA System but I am Shocked as to the amount of Negligence still in the system…case in point; a Veteran that is terminal has again been denied a deserved metal from Korean War. The VA claims that because their records were destroyed in a fire that they can not honor this man his metal due to their not having the records to confirm the claim. Here is the challenge, he is a elderly man who has never taken anything from the VA in terms of health insurance or benefits at all…when he found that he has little time left he thought he better file again for the Purple Hart which was supposed to be given to him years ago…now here it is years later and the VA refuses to honor his claim due to their not having the records….Why is it such a big deal???? The man has proof of events and injuries and yet this administration refuses to honor him because they do not have those certain records to confirm….are you kidding me!! The statement, “We Honor our Vets” is a joke at this point, what does this man have to gain form the metal…nothing but HONOR and the fact that the VA is denying this claim is a direct slap in the face to all us Vets that have served and lost something…I need everyone to respond to the travesty and support Fred Roberts of Grass Valley to force the VA to do the right thing!!

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