There is not much known about the only Medal of Honor recipient buried at Fort Meade National Cemetery. Albert Knaak was born overseas in Luxembourg, Switzerland, in the year 1842. Why he decided to immigrate to the United States is unknown, although there is speculation that he, like many other Europeans, left his home country to escape the social and political problems which were out of his control. Once in the States, Knaak joined the 8th Cavalry and was sent to Arizona Territory to fight during the Indian Wars where he received a Medal of Honor in 1868 for “bravery in scouts and actions against Indians.” This short excerpt tells of what Knaak may have encountered whilst serving in the South West:
In the late summer and fall of 1868, bands of hostile Apache Indians were marauding through the Arizona Territory, killing settlers and stealing livestock. Two Troops of the 8th Cavalry, a force of no more than 50-60 soldiers, were tasked with responding to secure settlements and keep the territory open for habitation. From August to October, Troops B and L were constantly in the saddle as they patrolled the territory. Though there were no major engagements, these troops were frequently attacked from ambush or sniped at from hidden ravines, and the 90-day period was one of intense danger and dedicated around-the-clock security for the Arizona Territory.
After Arizona, Troop B of the 8th Cavalry moved to Fort Clark, Texas, where Knaak was promoted from Private to 1st Sergeant. In 1888, the 8th Cavalry moved once again to Fort Meade, South Dakota, which would be Knaak’s final stop. On October 27, 1896, Ordnance Sergeant Albert Knaak was violently thrown from his horse and severely injured, but improved rapidly in the days following. However, things took a turn for the worse and on Wednesday, April 7, 1897, a 55 year old Sergeant Knaak passed away due to complications caused by his accident the previous fall. He was buried the next day with services conducted by the St. Thomas Episcopal Church and is said to have left property in Texas. His death is not the end of his story though: 81 years after his passing, Albert Knaak was honored during Sturgis’ centennial celebration. When he was originally buried, it was a secret that he had been awarded a Medal of Honor and no special honors or even a headstone were given. In 1978, the citizens of Sturgis decided to change that and issued a new commemorative tombstone for Sergeant Albert Knaak to finally give him the recognition he deserves. To this day, Knaak remains the only Medal of Honor recipient to have been buried at the Fort Meade National Cemetery, and he is one of eight whose final resting place is South Dakota.
Written by Katie Haigh