Brigadier General Hiram Iddings Bearss was born in Peru, Indiana in 1875. He and his younger brother Braxton were both members of the NU Class of 1898, though “Bracks” did not complete his studies at Norwich due to poor health. Known as “Mike” to his fellow cadets, Hiram Bearss was captain of the brand-new football team and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marines in 1898. Almost immediately, he was sent to serve in the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Philippine-American War.
It was during his time in the Philippines, on the Sohoton Cliffs, that Bearss performed the heroic actions for which he would receive the nation’s highest military honor 33 years later. Alongside Captain David Porter, who would also receive the Medal of Honor, he led a charge on precarious bamboo ladders up a treacherous cliff face in order to confront a stronghold of Philippine combatants who had recently perpetrated a massacre of American troops.
Bearss was a career military man with a nickname of “Hiking Hiram,” who went on to serve with distinction and leadership around the world, including in World War I. For his service in that conflict he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre among other honors. He retired as a colonel in 1919 due to a spinal injury, and in 1936 was given the rank of brigadier general.
In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt awarded Bearss the Medal of Honor “for extraordinary heroism and eminent and conspicuous conduct” in the engagement on the Sohoton Cliffs. He was one of 86 men to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions during the three-year conflict in the Philippines.
Bearss was tragically killed in a car accident near his Indiana home in 1938. In 1944, the Navy commissioned a Fletcher-class destroyer that was named in his honor, the USS Bearss.
If you’re interested in learning more about Hiram Bearss, you can review his extensive biographical file in the Norwich University Archives or check out his entry in the index to Norwich’s historical newspapers. Parts of this story are from an article by Professor Gary Lord that appeared in the Fall 2001 Norwich Record.