For many decades during the mid-twentieth century French Cardinal Eugene Tisserant (1884-1972) was a prominent member of the papal court. A progressive in matters of theology and ecclesiastical discipline, Tisserant was also a scholar of great distinction. A specialist in Eastern Christianity, he was the author of A History of the Syro-Malabar Church from the Earliest Times to the Present and similar works and was noted for his contributions to the decipherment of a number of extinct Middle Eastern ones. While director of the Vatican Library, he improved access for non-ecclesiastical scholars.
Tisserant spoke out against slaughter of thousands of Orthodox Serbs by the Catholic Croatians during World War II and attempted to steer papal policy towards a more active role against religious and racial persecution in Europe, most particularly the Holocaust.
But his notable ecclesiastical and scholarly achievements aside, Tisserant had one other unusual distinction. He was almost certainly the only senior churchman of his times to have ever taken part in a cavalry charge. And he did so when already in holy orders.
In the spirit of the Revolutionary “levee en mass”, under the conscription laws of the French Third Republic (1871-1940), every physically fit adult male citizen was liable for military service. In keeping with the Republic’s anti-clerical policies, there were no exemptions for clergymen. So, in his early twenties, Tisserant, although already a priest, did his stint in the French Army, earning a reserve commission as a lieutenant of cavalry. And of course, when France went to war with Germany in 1914, the 30-year old Father Tisserant went to war with his regiment.
Tisserant was seriously wounded in a cavalry skirmish during the Marne Campaign in September of 1914. When he recovered, the army, taking cognizance of his already impressive linguistic skills, sent him to the Middle East, to join the small French Expeditionary Force that was serving alongside the British in Egypt and Palestine. Continuing in the cavalry, Tisserant took part in several actions, notably during the campaign that culminated in the capture of Jerusalem from the Turks on December 11, 1917. Shortly afterwards, he was transferred to the intelligence service, in the furtherance of French colonial ambitions in Syria and Lebanon.
At the end of the war Major Tisserant was discharged, and resumed his ecclesiastical duties. An assignment to the Vatican Library began a long association with the Roman Curia. Perhaps his most notable achievement as a member of the papal court occurred in 1962, when he negotiated an historic joint statement Metropolitan Nikodim of the Russian Orthodox Church and Pope John XXIII, who had himself also done his bit during the First World War, as a sergeant in the Italian Army.
Holders of the Medal of Honor Who Switched Services
Given that the Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor that the United States can grant, those who hold it are widely respected in the service. One would think, then, than someone with a Medal of Honor, who wished to remain in uniform, would continue in that service in which he earned his decoration.
Oddly, this is not the case. A number of men who have earned the Medal of Honor have actually switched services.
Four Men Who Earned the Medal of Honor in the Marine Corps, and Later Joined the Army
Private William F. Zion, who earned a Medal of Honor at Peking in 1900, and later joined the Army, rising to first lieutenant.
Corporal Edwin N. Appleton, received his Medal of Honor for valor at Tientsin in 1900, and later became a Captain in the Army.
Captain Joseph J. Foss, the second highest scoring ace in the Corps, who was the first American pilot to break Eddie Rickenbacker's score from World War I, shooting down a total of 26 Japanese aircraft during World War II (20 Zeroes, four bombers, and two others), while himself being shot down three times, earning a Medal of Honor in the process, and later transferring to the Air Force, becoming a brigadier general in the Air National Guard, and, incidentally, governor of South Dakota.
Private First Class Arthur J. Jackson, received his Medal of Honor on Peleliu, and later went on to become a captain in the Army Reserve.
One Man Who Earned the Medal of Honor in the Army, and Later Joined the Marine Corps
Corporal Ludovicus M.M. Van Iersal, of the 9th Infantry, earned a Medal of Honor as a result of reconnaissance during which he was forced to swim the Meuse River under fire, at Mouzon, France, on November 9, 1918. After his discharge, he changed his name to Louis M. M. Van Iersal, joined the Marines, and rose to Sergeant Major, retiring shortly after World War II.