DANIEL RICHMOND EDWARDS (1898 ~ 1967). The events of Medal of Honor recipient Daniel Edwards' life, from birth to death, are unclear. He was prone to embellishment, a trait most likely enhanced by his celebrity, and records from the time he lived are often incomplete, making many of his claims impossible to disprove and many true events difficult to confirm.
His biography, This Side of Hell: Dan Edwards, adventurer, written in 1932 by Lowell Thomas, adventure writer and author of With Lawrence in Arabia, only complicates matters by providing a first-hand account of Edwards' life full of fantastic events and travels. While there is no doubt that Edwards was a brave man and accomplished great things, it must be noted that a number of the events in his life likely did not happen.
Daniel Richmond Edwards was born in Mooreville, Texas, on April 9, 1898, and grew up on his family's farm. He later changed his birth year to 1888 and is the date listed in his military records. Edwards claimed to have received his philosophy in life from a one-armed Confederate veteran who operated a ferry on the Bosque River near the Edwards family ranch. According to his biography, Edwards then ran away from home at the age of 14 to become a cowboy, eventually making his way to Mexico City, where he lived for a while, and then became a dance instructor and bouncer at a cafe in New Orleans. Within this same time period, he claimed to be a Texas Ranger who left the U.S. to serve under Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution before being captured by Mexican Federal forces by lasso and held at a salt mine prison camp until his escape, after which he served as an observer of the U.S. occupation of Vera Cruz.
He also claimed to be a veteran of the Philippine Insurrection. Only the Vera Cruz and Philippine Insurrection claims conflict with other information, especially his official enlistment in the Army in Bruceville, Texas, at the beginning of World War I. Edwards also claimed he attended a prominent Texas university before the war, the beginning of a long-running controversy that would unfold after his return from Europe.
During WWI, Edwards served with Company C, Third Machine Gun Battalion, First Division. On the morning of May 28, 1918, his unit fought at the Battle of Cantigny. While carrying a machine gun to its position, he was bayoneted in the wrist by an attacking enemy soldier. He manned his position throughout the day despite the deaths of the rest of his squad. The Germans launched several counterattacks against Edwards' position, involving flamethrowers and an airplane, but Edwards held them all off, though he was stabbed in the stomach during one.
After the battle, he was sent to a hospital where he recuperated and prepared to return home. However, on July 18, he heard that his former unit was preparing for the Battle of Soissons and left the hospital without permission to rejoin his unit. Back in the trenches, an artillery shell exploded near Edwards which left him dangling from the trench wall by his shattered right arm when he heard several German soldiers approach. He severed his arm below the elbow to free himself in time to meet eight German soldiers as they moved on his position. Edwards shot four of the soldiers, prompting the other four to surrender. Legend has it that he forced one of his prisoners to carry his severed right arm as he marched them back toward the American lines. Before he reached them, a shell exploded near the group severely wounding Edwards' left leg and killing one of the prisoners. Edwards was nominated for two Congressional Medals of Honor for his actions. The Army does not award more than one Medal of Honor to an individual for actions within the same time period and Edwards was given the Distinguished Service Cross in addition to the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was also a promoted to Sergeant. Edwards spent months in the hospital recovering from his wounds and moved to New York City upon his return to the United States.
Edwards used his veterans' benefits to receive an education while in New York. Unsatisfied with an accountant training program he was placed in, Edwards eventually testified before Congress to have his benefits pay for a Masters Degree in Journalism from Columbia University. In his Congressional testimony he swore he received a Bachelors Degree from Baylor University, a claim supported by a relative he supposedly lived with who resided within walking distance of the campus. However, his records at Columbia indicate he graduated from Texas A&M University in 1910. Edwards also claimed throughout his life to have played football and baseball at both universities. Due to incomplete records at Baylor and a fire which destroyed archives at Texas A&M, it is difficult to prove or disprove Edwards' attendance. However, he is not mentioned in university sports programs and statistics from the period. While at Columbia he may have been involved in a relationship with Professor Dorothy Scarbrough and organized the Comeback Club, a group of disabled veterans who played intramural baseball. Edwards left the university before finishing his degree.
Warren G. Harding appointed Edwards to be his press secretary during his 1920 election campaign, after which he appointed Edwards to a position consulting on veterans' affairs. In 1921 he married Francis Sullivan of New York and had a daughter, Joan Francis Edwards. During this time Edwards enjoyed a celebrity status and toured the country giving lectures. Most of his lectures involved telling his life story with attention to his experiences in war. He also used the lectures to promote education, especially vocational education, as a means to peace.
Daniel Edwards was listed in Who's Who in America twice, and was the subject of numerous newspaper articles that sensationalized his experiences. He was also the subject of a Ripley's Believe It or Not cartoon which described him as receiving 83 medals and 55 wounds during his service in wars. After World War I, Edwards claimed to serve as an officer in the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia, the Greco-Turkish War or Turkish War of Independence, the Chinese Army during the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Venezuelan Navy, the Ethiopian War, the Rift Revolt in Morocco, conflicts in Nicaragua and Madagascar, and World War II. Though there is little to confirm many of these claims, his official Medal of Honor tombstone inscription describes him as a Major and veteran of both World Wars.
In 1941 Edwards married Mary Hanie in Georgia; they had four children. He worked as an overseas correspondent in England and continued writing and speaking about his experiences in war. During this time he claimed to have discovered at least one Daniel Edwards imposter who was on a fraudulent lecture tour through Missouri and Kansas. Edwards and his wife lived in a small cabin near Lake Ouachita in Arkansas, where he worked as a fishing guide for the rest of his life. Though no longer the celebrity he once was, Edwards reappeared in the news occasionally, described as a tough old war hero getting the most out of his golden years. Edwards died on October 21, 1967, and is buried in the Cunningham Cemetery in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Bibliography: "Above and Beyond: The Medal of Honor in Texas." Capitol Visitors Center, State Preservation Board of Texas; Charges Against the Federal Board for Vocational Education: Hearings Before the Committee on Education. House of Representatives, Sixty Sixth Congress, Second Session, Government Printing Office: 1920: Part 1; "Fifteen War Heroes Get Medals Here." New York Times. April 6, 1923: page 8; Fortieth Annual Report of the United States Civil Service Commission. Government Printing Office, 1923: page 157; "Former Student of A. and M. Outstanding World War Hero." The Texas Aggie. September 15, 1923; "Found Humor in 7 Wars" New York Times. April 7, 1930: page 23; Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, University of Texas, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbok/online/articles; "His Hand Lost in War, Veteran is Unable to Qualify for Bonus." Dallas Morning News. February 1, 1936: page 1; "Legionnaire Has 70 Decorations to Pay for Arm, Leg." Dallas Morning News. October 8, 1929: page 8; McCord, Robert. "Self-Preservation: Valor and Fishing Help." Arkansas Democrat: Sunday Magazine. April 14, 1957; Official Records, Columbia University, Low Memorial Library; Official U.S. Military Records, National Archives; Pittman, Katsy. "Aggie war hero's past questioned." The Battalion (Texas A&M University). November 2, 1989; "Scores of Our Men Cited for Bravery." New York Times. June 26, 1918: page 4; Schultz, Charles R. and Turner, Thomas E. Correspondence: January-May, 1986; "This Side of Hell." New York Herald Tribune. Books, November 6, 1932: page X13; "This Side of Hell." The London Times Literary Supplement. June 8, 1933: page 399; Thomas, Lowell. This Side of Hell: Dan Edwards, adventurer. Garden City: Doubleday, Doran and Company: 1932; Turner, Thomas E. "Daniel Edwards: Hero or Hoax?" The Annals. The Medal of Honor Historical Society; Twelfth Census of the United States: Falls County, Texas: 1900; Who's Who in America. 1928: page 703.