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A tale of two Johnson County war heroes

April 27, 2021

Tri-service Medal of Honor

By Gerald Hay

Johnson County has two native sons who received the Medal of Honor in their military service. They reflect a tale of two citizens of the nation’s highest award for bravery in combat.

One hero was Stanley T. Adams, who was born in De Soto and earned his medal in the Korean War as an Army sergeant first class. He also served earlier in World War II and later in the Vietnam War.

Adams received his medal for military action that claimed many enemy lives.

The other was John Henry Balch, an Edgerton native, who received the Medal of Honor in WWI as a Navy pharmacist first mate. He, too, served in WWII.

Balch was awarded his medal for military action that saved many American lives.

Neither war hero returned to Johnson County to live after receiving their Medals of Honor and when their military service ended.

John Henry Balch

John Henry BalchBorn on Jan. 2, 1896, in Edgerton, John Henry Balch was the grandson of Dr. Calvin (C.W.) Balch, a prominent physician with a large practice in Olathe, who was instrumental in creation of the historic Lanesfield School.

According to Johnson County Museum, C.W. Balch was one of nine townsmen in the community of Lanesfield. They unanimously approved $1,000 in school bonds for the No. 12 School District in Johnson County. The district purchased the land for $200. The limestone, one-room Lanesfield School was completed in 1869 and had an enrollment of 69 pupils in the spring of 1870 with a daily average attendance of 51 students.

The school, which closed in 1963, became a historic site of Johnson County Museum in 1988. Located at 18745 South Dillie Road, Lanesfield School is the last remaining structure from the bygone town.

“He (John Henry) likely attended Lanesfield School, but we have no record of his attendance in the (Johnson County Museum) collection, although records of his siblings Charley and Ethel attending the school exist for the 1897 – 1900 period,” said Sarah Vacik, Visitors Services coordinator at the museum.

“However, his family moved away from the area several times, to other locations in Kansas, and it seems once WWI started, Balch never returned to Johnson County.”

Balch was attending Kansas State University when he enlisted at age 21 in the U.S. Navy on May 26, 1917, becoming a pharmacist first mate.

A year later, he was with the 6th Regiment of the Marines fighting in France. Balch was wounded in the Battle of Belleau Wood in June. A month later and again in the fall, he showed exceptional bravery by establishing an aid station under intense fire. He was credited with carrying wounded Marines to safety and thereby saving their lives.

His citation reads: “For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, with the 6th Regiment, United States Marines, in action at Vierzy, on July 19, 1918. (John Henry) Balch unhesitatingly and fearlessly exposed himself to terrific machinegun and high-explosive fire to succor the wounded as they fell in the attack, leaving voluntarily and keeping up the work all day and late into the night unceasingly for 16 hours on a field torn by shell and machinegun fire. Also, in the action at Somme-Py on Oct. 5, 1918, he exhibited exceptional bravery in establishing an advanced dressing station under heavy shellfire.”

On Aug. 19, 1919, Balch received an honorable discharge. One month later, he was presented the Medal of Honor for both actions by Rear Admiral F. B. Bassett in Chicago.

In addition to the Purple Heart and Medal of Honor, Balch received the Distinguished Service Cross, an interservice award from U.S. Army. It is the second highest honor of the Army. He was also awarded three silver Citation Stars from the Department of War. The Citation Star became the Silver Star Medal in 1932. It is the third highest military award.

His foreign decorations included the French Croix de Guerre, Italian War Merit Cross and Portuguese War Cross.

Following WWI, he and his wife, Elizabeth, settled in Chicago where they owned a business for 23 years. In September 1942, Balch, at age 46, rejoined the Navy as a lieutenant and served stateside as well as in the Pacific Theater in Australia and the Philippines. He retired in 1950 from the Naval Reserve
with the rank of commander.

After WWII, the couple established an insurance business in Waukegan, Illinois. After retiring in 1961, they moved to Sun City, Florida and later to Sun City, California. They had no children.

Balch died in 1980 at age 84. He is buried at Riverside, California National Cemetery. The Naval Health Clinic at Quantico, Virginia was renamed the John H. Balch Clinic in 2005.

Locally, past efforts by some residents to honor Balch with a marker or other means have been unsuccessful. A small exhibit with his picture is displayed at the Edgerton Community Museum, 406 East Nelson St.

A video honoring John Henry Balch is viewable at youtube.com/watch?v=wmnPrJNoFyI.

Stanley T. Adams

Stanley T. AdamsThirty-two years after Balch received his Medal of Honor, a second Johnson County native was awarded the nation’s highest award for bravery in the Korean War. He was Stanley T. Adams, who was born on May 9, 1922, in DeSoto.

According to Kathy Ross of the De Soto Historical Society, Adams’ time in De Soto wasn’t very long after his birth.

“He had no personal ties to our community other than his mother’s family (Taylor) was from here and his parents are buried here. His parents were living in Olathe when his father died and was brought here to be buried. Then, his mother was living in Wichita and brought back here to be buried when she passed,” Ross said.

At age 20, Adams joined the Army on Nov. 9. 1942, in Olathe. He served in World War II, fighting in North Africa and Italy, and receiving the Purple Heart. Adams was released from military service in 1945 and enlisted again in 1949 on the eve of the Korean War.

Adams, then a sergeant first class serving with the 19th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division south of Seoul, received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Feb. 4, 1951, when his platoon was attacked by about 250 enemy soldiers. He led 13 men in a bayonet charge and hand-to-hand combat, killing more than 50 enemy soldiers and forcing the others to retreat. Adams was subsequently shot in the leg and had close calls with four grenades.

He was quickly promoted to master sergeant and received the Medal of Honor during a White House ceremony on July 5, 1951, from President Harry S. Truman.

Part of his citation reads: “M/Sgt. Adams’ superb leadership, incredible courage and consummate devotion to duty so inspired his comrades that the enemy attack was completely thwarted, saving his battalion from possible disaster. His sustained personal bravery and indomitable fighting spirit against overwhelming odds reflect the utmost glory upon himself and uphold the finest traditions of the infantry and the military service.”

Soon after receiving the Medal of Honor, Adams was commissioned a second lieutenant. He remained in the Army until 1970, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Research was unable to determined other significant military honors Adams received during his military career spanning 28 years and three wars.

After leaving the Army, Adams worked in an administrative position with the Internal Revenue Service in Alaska and eventually retired with Jean, his wife, who also a WWII veteran, in Bend, Oregon.

He died at age 76 in 1999 at the Oregon Veterans Home in The Dalles, Oregon. Adams was buried in the Willamette National Cemetery near Portland.

In his honor and through a donation left by his wife, the Oregon Veterans Home built the Stan and Jean Adams Veterans’ Community Center where his Medal of Honor is on display. The center opened in 2011.

Locally, Adams has been recognized at a monument in Veterans Memorial Park and a mile-long stretch of K-7/U.S. 169 highway near the park, both in Olathe.

“There are no monuments or mention of him here in town (De Soto),” Ross said. “As far as being memorialized in the community, he’s unfortunately not. Most people aren’t.”

The rest is history.