Responding to uprisings in China in 1871 that destroyed the American merchant schooner "General Sherman" and resulted in the murder of its entire crew, six American warships including the USS Benicia were dispatched to Korea in retaliation. After coming under fire, on June 10th a group of 550 sailors and 100 marines were landed to assault the enemy forts. In the assault, Lieutenant McKee of the USS Alaska fell mortally wounded while leading his men. Nearby, Landsman Lukes saw this and, despite the overwhelming number of enemy, rushed forward to rout them. With two other seamen, Seth Allen and Thomas Murphy, Lukes then went to the rescue of Lieutenant McKee, who's body was being dragged away by the retreating enemy. Engaging in desperate hand-to-hand combat with the superior enemy force, both Allen and Murphy were killed. Luke's unconscious body was found by advancing marines. He had sustained 18 spear and sword wounds in the battle before falling unable to fight further.
The battle at the Korean Forts in 1871 was the first FOREIGN engagement to Merit Medals of Honor.
15 Medals of Honor - 9 Navy and 6 Marines, were awarded over the 3-day period of this
action. John Lukes and James Merton (a fellow MOH recipient from this action) spent months recovering from their wounds, hence their awards were presented 6 months after the rest of the heroes of that action. Lukes himself spent 39 days, unconscious in the sick bay of the USS Colorado, before recovering. His wounds made him an invalid for life.
our Story on the Korea 1871 Campaign