|Luckily for us, this particular Philippine Insurrection Medal was impressed with a serial number preceded by a
“No.” prefix – No. 7236 – which can be traced to a specific soldier, and his story is perfectly suited to the “Great
Game” section of soldiersofthequeen.com.
The recipient of this medal was First Sergeant John Osborne Powell of A Troop, 14th U.S. Cavalry. Powell’s
story is an interesting one. A British subject by birth, he was born on 13 December 1872 at the British Consulate
in Baghdad, in what was then Turkish Arabia, to Commander Walter John Powell of the Royal Indian Marine
(basically the Anglo-Indian Navy but in general practice more like an Anglo-Indian Coast Guard) and Nicocris
Susan Holland. At the time of his birth, the younger Powell’s father seems to have been serving in some as yet
undetermined detached duty at Baghdad. Interestingly the Commander had his master’s certificate issued to him
in Baghdad in 1871.
The 1881 Census for Westbury-on-Trym, Gloucestershire, lists Powell with his mother, brother, sister, cousin and
two servants. Powell’s mother, Nicocris is listed as the family head and rather curiously their address is given as
Baghdad. One assumes that Westbury-on-Trym was the family's hometown and they were enumerated in
absentia. Why John Walter Powell was not enumerated or listed as the head of household is unknown.
On 1 July 1889, 17-year-old John Osborne Powell arrived at New York on board the SS Adriatic. The ship’s
manifest listed him as a student but no other clues can be gleaned at why he chose to visit the United States.
What he did and where he went after arrival is unknown but on 24 August 1893, he enlisted in the U.S. Army at
Vancouver Barracks in Washington State as was assigned to E Troop, 4th U.S. Cavalry. At the time of his
enlistment, he gave his occupation as a farmer. One wonders what prompted Powell to choose a military career
as an enlisted man in the U.S. He was not yet a citizen (he would become one in 1904) and one would have
thought that with his father being an officer in Her Majesty’s service that certain advantages may have been
available to him had he decided to pursue a military career in Great Britain.
In any event, he was discharged after his first term of enlistment on 31 July 1898 at Honolulu, Hawaii Territory
with the rank of sergeant. His character was listed as “excellent”. He almost immediately reenlisted on
September 17, 1898, at the Presidio in San Francisco, California with H Troop, 4th U.S. Cavalry for a one year
term of service being discharged at Honolulu, Hawaii Territory on February 23, 1899, with the rank of corporal.
Again his character was listed as “excellent”. Powell had clearly decided on a career in the U.S. Army by this
The U.S. Army’s enlistment registers may not be complete since Powell’s next enlistment is dated March 24,
1902, at New York with F Troop, 7th U.S. Cavalry and was discharged as a sergeant on February 25, 1905, at
Boise Barracks, Idaho. His character being “very good”.
Philippine Insurrection (Philippine Campaign) Medal No. 7236
Sergeant (later 1st Lieutenant) John Osborne Powell
United States Army
|Powell would continue reenlisting on the following dates and locations: October 30, 1906, Vancouver Barracks, Washington State (G Troop, 14th Cavalry), 14 December 1907,
Vancouver Barracks, Washington State, (F Troop. 8th U.S. Cavalry) and being promoted 1st Sergeant during this enlistment. December 14, 1910, at Fort Stotsenburg, Philippine
Islands (14th U.S. Cavalry). Interestingly, Powell’s discharge from this enlistment took part aboard the United States Army Transport “Thomas” during the vessel’s transit from the
Philippines to California. His rank at this time was that of ordnance sergeant.
Powell seems to disappear from the Register of Enlistments after this last entry but his career can be picked up in the U.S. Army’s Returns from Military Posts. He seems to have
returned to the Philippines before 1914 as an ordnance sergeant after spending some time at the Presidio at Monterey, California. Back in the Philippines, seemingly now with the
Ordnance Department, he was stationed at Camp Keithley on the southern island of Mindanao. The Returns show him at Camp Keithley until March 1915 when the Return for Camp
Keithley states that Powell was: “Relieved fr [sic] duty at Camp Keithley. P.I., per SO 50, HPD., dated March 5, 1915. Left post on March 25/15.” “SO 59” appears to involve leave –
possibly extended – being granted to a soldier.
Powell continued to serve as an ordnance sergeant and later master sergeant with the Ordnance Department through World War One, retiring from service as a master sergeant on
November 8, 1921. At some time prior to September 1, 1919 he had been promoted 1st lieutenant in the Ordnance Reserve Corps. As of now, I have been unable to determine where
and it what capacity Powell served during the U.S. participation in World War One. The 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri which destroyed
80% of the enlisted service records for the World War One era may preclude finding out more regarding Powell’s wartime service.
Powell had married Miss Mary Bowen Hooper at Baltimore, Maryland on January 18, 1919. The couple does not appear to have had any children.
Powell applied for a passport in 1921 to visit England, Belgium, and France with his recent bride. Powell’s mother, Nicocris was still alive so the couple no doubt spent time visiting her.
Powell’s father had died in 1913. There is no evidence that Powell served with the American Expeditionary Force during the war, but if he did perhaps he was taking his wife to see the
localities involved with his wartime service.
In the rather voluminous correspondence involved with his passport application, Powell relates his active service in the Philippines, on the Mexican Border, and during World War
One. His service in the Philippines is confirmed by this medal and its corresponding mention in the Philippine Insurrection Medal index. Additionally, the index for the Spanish War
Campaign Medal lists Powell as being entitled to that medal (No.7630) and mentions him being stationed at Savanna Proving Grounds in Illinois when the medal was issued (September
19, 1919). Powell was also entitled to the World War One Victory Medal although due to the lack of records it is not known what if any battle of service clasps to his Victory Medal
Powell may have been authorized to wear on the medal’s ribbon. The current whereabouts of these last two medals is not known.
After retirement from the army Powell and his wife took up residence in Maryland where in the 1940 Census he is listed as a farmer by way of occupation. Sometime prior to 1948 the
Powells’ moved to La Jolla, California, not far from San Diego.
John Osborne Powell died on March 30, 1960, at La Jolla, California and was buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.
|Above: John Osborne Powell in his photo taken for his 1921 not
long before his retirement. At the time he held the regular rank of
master sergeant and 1st lieutenant's commission in the Ordnance
Photo: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA);