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171st Chaplain awarded Catto medal

  • Published
  • By Capt. Dicie Hritz
  • 171st Public Affairs
The Catto medal was created more than 130 years ago to honor a militia officer but never awarded until this year and was presented for the first time on Saturday when the Pennsylvania National Guard presented it to two guardsmen from the National Guard in Pennsylvania for their community service.

Maj. Octavius V. Catto, a Civil War-era member of the National Guard and civil rights activist, was shot to death in 1871 by a white man in Philadelphia as whites tried to keep blacks from voting on Election Day. Six years later, an all-white jury acquitted a Democratic Party operative accused of killing Catto, even though six witnesses named him as the shooter, according to the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia.

The medal was rediscovered several years ago during a push to honor Catto, which included standing up a statute of Maj. Catto in Philadelphia. Officials approved the medal for reintroduction into the state's military decorations in December, to honor guard members who distinguish themselves through community support and public service.

"I'm still shocked and humbled by it," said Maj. Jonathan Bell of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and a chaplain in the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Coraopolis, Pa. "I do what I do because that's what I do. I don't do it to earn recognition."

Bell was also nominated as 2011 Air National Guard Chaplain of the Year for his overseas service.

He is the senior pastor of Blacklick Community United Methodist Church in Buffington. In January, he returned from a six-month deployment in Southeast Asia, and he was deployed twice to Antarctica and other overseas locations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"We are so proud and humbled to have Chaplain Bell in our unit. He epitomizes what the Catto medal stands for and really puts light on the term citizen-soldier," said Col. Steven Painter, vice commander of the 171st Air Refueling Wing, in a statement. "He is always helping out the community in any way he can."

The other recipient of the award was 1st Sgt. Kevin Bittenbender of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Bittenbender of Montgomery was honored for his community service and retention and recruiting efforts.