Medal of Honor

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Lieutenant Alonzo Cushings

This article (a class assignment) was submitted by an Eighth Grader from Wisconsin. I was so impressed by the story and the way this sweet young lady, who I affectionately –and now proudly– refer to as “my niece”, was able to synthesis the story of this truly remarkable hero. He most certainly deserves our nations highest award for valor and Danielle deserves applause for bringing his story to our attention. Thank you Danielle. “Press the Attack!”

Lieutenant Alonzo Cushings

by: Danielle Weymier

On November 6, 2014 justice was finally done to Lieutenant Alonzo Cushings as he was awarded with the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor and perseverance. Lieutenant Cushings was born on January 19th, 1841 in Delafield, Wisconsin and he was a graduate of West Point. He was an artillery officer in the union army during the Civil War. He commanded an artillery which had to fight the famous Confederate attack, Pickett’s Charge, in the battle of Gettysburg. During the battle, when Cushings had many wounds, he refused to withdraw from the front line and move to the rear. Even though Lieutenant Cushings lived before Colonel John Ripley, he faithfully fulfilled his command “Press the Attack! Never shrink back!” Lieutenant Cushings was extraordinary as he did not die from one wound but three. The first was a shell fragment that went through his shoulder. The second wound was another shell fragment that tore his abdomen and groin, exposing his intestines, but he still persevered and held them in place with his hands to continue pressing the attack. The third and final wound was a bullet that entered his mouth and escaped through the back of his skull. He was twenty two years old when he died. Lieutenant Cushings is buried in the West Point Cemetery next to Major General John Buford. His tombstone reads “Faithful unto Death.”  Lieutenant Alonzo Cushings was truly an honorable and valiant man who died defending the Union and although he died at a young age, his legacy will live forever.

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“Carpenter was nominated for the nation’s highest award for valor following reports that he covered a grenade to save the life of his friend, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Eufrazio, during an insurgent attack in the Marjah district of Helmand province as the two Marines were standing guard on a rooftop on Nov. 21, 2010. Carpenter and Eufrazio survived the blast, but suffered severe wounds. Carpenter lost an eye and most of his teeth and shattered his jaw; his arm was also broken in several places.

“Damage from shrapnel to the frontal lobe of Eufrazio’s brain left him unable to speak for two years.

“The Marine Corps investigation of the incident to determine whether Carpenter deserved the award was complicated by several factors: There were no other witnesses, Carpenter couldn’t remember what happened because of trauma and Eufrazio was unable to speak until late 2012.”

To read more click here.

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by: Norman Fulkerson

With so much negative news these days, the story about Capt. William Swenson, who received the Medal of Honor last month is truly a breath of fresh air. He earned our nation’s highest award during the same fierce battle as fellow recipient and Kentucky native, Dakota Meyer.

We long for better days but have lost sight of the fact that it was because of men such as these that our country achieved the success –economic and otherwise– we now see slipping away. Over the years we have lost track of what matters most in life. We give too great importance to material things, such as our favorite technological devices, and fail to realize the inestimable value of immaterial things like honor. America desperately needs the “rule of honor” so well explained in my favorite book “Return to Order” by John Horvat.

If/when we hit bottom, it will not be to our i-phones that we will turn for help, nor to our “nanny government” whose socialist programs will eventually impoverish our nation. Rather, we will turn to selfless heroes like William Swenson who courageously faced withering gunfire and even death out of love for neighbor and a higher cause.

Thankfully such men are not as uncommon as we might think in our great nation. They are easily recognizable as those who seek to surpass the proverbial Joneses, not by the amount of money in their pockets, but by the amount of courage and honor in their hearts.

Maj. Gen. James Livingston USMC (Ret.) is a Medal of Honor Recipient whose heroism can now be cheapened by any imposter audacious enough to wear the medals he courageously earned.

By Major General James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.)

The federal government failed us all on June 28th, and in more ways than one. Days before Americans celebrated the anniversary of our nation’s hard-fought independence, the Supreme Court of the United States declared unconstitutional the Stolen Valor Act. Overshadowed by its decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the Court’s decision was a landmark blow to a definitive feature of American culture: The prestige and honor we bestow upon sacrifices made by few while protecting the freedoms enjoyed by all.

According to the Court, Congress violated your First Amendment rights to free speech by making it a federal crime for you to knowingly issue false claims about your receipt of military awards and decorations for heroism, including America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. If, that is, you do so without the intent to defraud — as if one would falsely claim their receipt of America’s top military awards and decorations for heroism for other purposes.

While the Supreme Court effectively consents to imposing limitations to the First Amendment in the instances of slander and unfounded character assassination attempts targeting persons and organizations, according to SCOTUSblog, “The Court concluded that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional because the Government had not shown that the statute is necessary to protect the integrity of the system of military honors — the interest the Government had identified in support of the Act.”

The decision to eliminate any penalty for those persons falsely claiming receivership of these hard-earned and treasured honors is disturbing in many ways. But it brings to mind two simple questions: Can we meaningfully protect the integrity of the system of military honors without legally deterring activities that diminish the sanctity of those honors? Moreover, by scrapping such legal deterrents, by making it lawful for anyone to falsely claim participation in that system, has the Supreme Court not diminished the integrity of the system of military honors, which so clearly stems from its inclusion of a select few, for select reasons?

The great irony of this decision is glaring. It is a crime to falsely claim degrees earned from universities for personal gain and employment. It is a crime to cheat on professional examinations in college. It is a crime to provide false or misleading information on a bank or mortgage loan application. Likewise, it is a crime to lie to law enforcement officials during the course of an investigation, and pose as an unlicensed professional, such as a doctor, lawyer or police officer. It is even a crime to falsify a student education loan or a passport application.

These are all examples of fraud for personal gain. And I fail to see how falsely claiming undeserved military combat honors, especially the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, or any award for valor is anything less than the greatest of frauds. Particularly as perpetrators’ agendas are virtually always focused on attaining notoriety and some form of accommodation by claiming receipt of special acknowledgements for service to our country which are reserved by the federal government for a very special group of patriots.

Those who make such claims regarding the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart and other decorations for valor tarnish the prestige, sanctity, honor and sacrifices of those who have legitimately earned these distinctions. In so doing, they denigrate the system of military honors, public perception of that system, and chip away at the prestige our society rightly assigns to military service, and combat heroism.

I have personally served with fine young Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen who legitimately earned accolades and honors reserved for military heroes for their service to our country — many of whom never lived to benefit from their sacrifices. In my view, it is a disgusting and tragic footnote to our collective history that our highest court has determined accolades for such service are, in essence, free to acquire, without proper sanction, and may be displayed in the public domain under false pretenses by individuals who might not have even served in uniform.

It is a privilege for Americans to serve in uniform, and in particular an honor to be chosen to serve in the United States Marine Corps. But these imposters, these brazen charlatans who lay claim to these undeserved honors make it an absolute disgrace — a true dishonor — to all of us who have served in uniform. Let alone suffered the pain of battle, faced an enemy, collected the dead and wounded, and lived with the aftermath of doing a job that most cannot fathom, or would ever wish to perform.

Of course, these imposters do more than dishonor those of us who have served. They dishonor the values and integrity of our nation and its proud heritage.
Our current administration and the Supreme Court — through their continued and questionable actions — have made it abundantly clear that personal accountability, personal and national honor, individual integrity, and duty to the nation above oneself mean much less than self-gratification, the agendas of political action committees, currying favor for elected office, and claiming unearned honors for personal gain through any means.

These are neither the values, nor a legacy we should impart to future generations of Americans. If the federal government is unwilling to do what is right in this case, individual states must rectify this gross lapse in judgment. Just as states implemented their individual versions of immigration reform laws after being let down by the federal government, the states should establish laws to protect these honors which, according to federal law, are now so easily degraded and devalued by the shameful actions of a despicable few.

The implementation of laws to protect our honor, and punish those who would abrogate, who would pursue such conduct to dishonor those of us who have fought to protect their freedoms, is long overdue in many states. And there is no better time than the present to take action to address our federal government’s failures.

 

Major General James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret) is a recipient of the Medal of Honor. In addition to serving on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards, he is the CEO of Kronos Advisory. An autobiographical account of Gen Livingston’s military career, including his courageous actions at Dai Do, Vietnam that earned him the highest military decoration awarded by the United States Government, is presented in his book Noble Warrior: The Story of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor.

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Sergeant Leslie Halasz Sabo, Jr.

Forty years ago Monday, [Sergeant] Leslie Sabo of Ellwood City died in Cambodia while trying to save his buddies from a North Vietnamese ambush that killed seven of his 101st Airborne Division comrades.

The 22-year-old was recommended posthumously for the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor.

Read more CLICK HERE.

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Fr._Capodanno.jpgby:  Lawrence P. Grayson 

September 4, 1967, Quong Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam. A routine, pre-dawn, sweeping operation by a Marine company was turning into a major battle with a large force of the North Vietnamese Army. Three additional companies of Marines were committed. Fr. Vincent Capodanno, M.M. was granted permission to accompany the reinforcements, as he knew there would be many wounded and killed.

At 2:45 p.m., two platoons came under heavy fire on one side of a hill. The chaplain, left his relatively safe position on the other side, and raced across an open area

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Father Capodanno praying with the troops.

raked by fire to be near the men. To repel the enemy, tear gas was dropped on the U.S. position. The Marines had gas masks, but Father Capodanno, seeing that a chocking Marine was without one, gave him his. He continued to go to wounded Marines and help them back to the defensive perimeter or administer last rites.

As he ran toward a mortally wounded man, shrapnel from an exploding mortar inflicted multiple wounds to his right arm and leg. Fr. Capodanno, his arm held stiffly at his side, reached the Marine, and prayed with him until he died. Refusing medical aid, the chaplain worked his way over to several other wounded Marines to comfort them.

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Fr. Capodanno (right) comforting a wounded Marine.

A sergeant, who had been wounded five times, lay dazed on an exposed slope. The chaplain reached him and dragged him into a depression to save his life. As the fighting raged, Father Capodanno was wounded a second time, but still refused to leave the battlefield.

About 6:30 p.m., three Marines moved to destroy an enemy machine gun; two were killed and the third wounded. Fr. Capodanno reached the injured man, and as his right hand was useless blessed him with his left. Just then a medic who had been coming to aid the wounded Marine was shot. Father ran to the medic, positioning his body between the medic and the enemy. The machine gunner opened fire killing both men.

Father Capodanno suffered 27 bullet wounds, from his head to his spine. Immediately, news of his death circulated throughout the battlefield, and was radioed to the command center as: “Number 21 is KIA.” Twenty-one is the code for the chaplain.

Fr. Vincent Capodanno had come a long way from his birth on February 13, 1929 to an Italian immigrant family on Staten Island, NY. He was the youngest of ten

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Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno, M.M.

children born to the devout, Catholic family. Although he never spoke of an interest in the priesthood during his early years, he frequently attended daily Mass on his way to a local, public high school. When he graduated, he continued the practice, as he took a job as a clerk in an insurance company and attended night classes at Fordham University. At the age of 20, he decided to become a Maryknoll missioner, and after nine years of study and preparation was ordained.

Two months later, Father and five other Maryknollers were sent to Taiwan. For the next year, he studied the Hakka-Chinese dialect to prepare him for his ministry to this minority group in the mountains of western Taiwan. He spent the remainder of his initial six-year assignment undertaking a variety of responsibilities. Then, after a traditional six-month furlough, he was assigned to Hong Kong. Father Capodanno expressed a desire to return to Taiwan, but was refused. He then requested permission to join the Navy Chaplain Corps and serve with the Marines in Vietnam. This was approved and, in late 1965, he was commissioned a lieutenant. In April 1966, he was assigned to the 7th Marine Regiment, south of Da Nang. As the only Catholic chaplain in the regiment, he had to see to the spiritual needs of the men in three battalions, spread over a wide area.

Father Capodanno lived as close to the combat Marines as possible, spending more time at combat bases, where he knew he was needed, than at the battalion command post. He marched with them, carried the same loads, went on patrol with them, shared his rations, and made himself fully accessible to them. On Sundays, he said Mass at each of the battalions, often traveling from one to the other by helicopter. In 1966, he participated in six combat operations, and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Normally, chaplains are transferred from field combat units after six months. Fr. Vincent Capodanno served eight months before being attached to a medical battalion to serve the hospitalized. He longed to be with the field unit again, and often visited his old battalion during its operations. When his year-long tour of duty was coming to an end, he requested a six month extension. It was approved, and he was assigned to the 5th Marine Regiment in the Que Son Valley, where some of the fiercest fighting was going on. He voluntarily joined the officers who “walked the line” at night to visit the forward posts and assure that the defenses were ready. Fr. Capodanno stayed close to the fighting men, comforting them, saying Mass, hearing Confessions, listening to their problems, writing to their families. Then came the fateful day in September.

Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno received the Medal of Honor from his country for his heroism, and has been made a “Servant of God” by his Church for his selflessness towards others. His cause for canonization is being considered.

About the Author: Lawrence P. Grayson is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He also serves as State Director for Pro-Life Activities, Knights of Columbus, Maryland.

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Fr. Charles Joseph Watters

by:  Lawrence P. Grayson

In the early morning hours of November 9, 1967, as American artillery and aircraft pounded an 875-meter-high hill near Dak To, Vietnam, Fr. Charles Watters offered Mass at its base. Many Protestants joined the Catholics for the well-attended service. Soon, the chaplain would accompany these paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade as they moved against a North Vietnam Army (NVA) unit occupying the hill. The commanding general of the 173rd thought the objective was held by a depleted enemy force that suffered heavy casualties in recent fighting. The occupiers, however, were a fresh NVA regiment of 2,000 soldiers.

At 9:43 am, 330 men in three companies moved out. Companies C and D advanced abreast, while CompVany A was behind to protect the rear. The weather was clear and warm. The advance was slow through the thick, tangled foliage of scrub brush, bamboo and tall trees. Unknown to the Americans, the enemy had been preparing the site for several months, constructing camouflaged bunkers interconnected with trenches and tunnels and storing extensive quantities of supplies. At 10:30 am, with the first troopers a few hundred meters from the crest of the hill, a well-concealed NVA force opened fire with recoilless rifles, automatic weapons, small arms, rockets and hand grenades.

Father Watters moved to the line of contact. When a wounded trooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Father raced forward, picked the man up and carried him to safety. Soon after, he ran through intense enemy fire to aid a fallen soldier. The chaplain moved wherever he was needed.

When the fighting began, Company A, which was to the rear, began constructing a landing zone that could be used for resupply and evacuation of the wounded. The work was slow as the company was under occasional fire. Then, at 2:30 pm, enemy troops launched a massive assault from lower on the hill, driving the company upwards toward the other American units. The paratroopers had walked into a carefully prepared ambush, with enemy units above and below them.

With their advance halted, the Americans formed a defensive perimeter, bringing in their injured. As the men pulled back, the chaplain went into “no man’s land,” between the two forces, exposing himself to friendly as well as enemy fire to recover two wounded soldiers.

Celebrating Mass during the war in Vietnam. Father Watters believed his place was always with the fighting men — in the combat zone.

The NVA were now striking from all sides in a well-coordinated attack. The paratroopers were firing intensely, but the NVA continued to come. When the American defensive zone was forced to contract, Father Watters saw several wounded men lying outside of it. Ignoring attempts to restrain him, he left the perimeter three times in the face of automatic weapons and mortar fire to carry and assist injured troopers to safety. Then he moved about, aiding the medics, distributing food and water, speaking words of encouragement, and giving last rites to the dying.

With the three companies now in a common defensive area, the several command posts and the wounded were placed in the middle. For several hours, the Americans fought off the enemy. The high expenditure of ammunition and lack of water made resupply essential, but heavy enemy fire made it difficult. Six helicopters were hit and driven away before one finally dropped needed supplies at 5:50 pm.

As the enemy assault intensified, U.S. air strikes and artillery were called in, but they had little effect because of the dense foliage. Then, just after dark, at 6:58 pm, a Marine Corps fighter-bomber released two 500-pound bombs destined for the edge of the American perimeter. One of them struck the upper part of a tree located near the center of the American position and exploded. Fragments of the bomb were showered over the area which contained the combined command group, the wounded, and the medics. It killed 42 men, including the chaplain, and wounded 45 others. This was one of the worst friendly-fire incidents of the Vietnam War.

Charles Joseph Watters was born in Jersey City, N.J., on January 17, 1927. After attending Seton Hall University, he went to Immaculate Conception Seminary, and was ordained a priest in 1953. While serving in several parishes in New Jersey, he earned a commercial pilot’s license, and then in 1962 joined the Air Force National Guard. Three years later, Father enlisted in the Army as a chaplain, successfully completed airborne training and was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, nicknamed the Sky Soldiers.

In June 1966, Father Watters, now a major, began a twelve-month tour of duty in Vietnam. He believed his place was with the fighting men, and so when a unit he was attached to rotated to the rear, he would join another unit in combat. He was constantly in motion, saying Mass, tending the wounded, joking with the men and giving spiritual guidance. Fr. Charles Joseph Watters celebrating Mass in the combat zone during the Vietnam War, shortly before his death. Father Watters with his chaplain’s assistant saying Mass shortly before his death.

In February 1967, he took part in Operation Junction City, which included the only combat jump of the Vietnam War. This helped endear him to the men, who knew he would risk his life with them. During this tour of duty, he was awarded an Air Medal and a Bronze Star with a V for valor.

When his tour ended, he extended for another six months. After the friendly-fire incident in which Father Watters was killed, the Americans took Hill 875, and significantly crippled the fighting effectiveness of the North Vietnam units they fought. Fr. Charles Joseph Watters was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and has had schools, a bridge, a Knights of Columbus council, and the Army Chaplain’s School named after him.

 

 

About the Author: Lawrence P. Grayson is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He also serves as State Director for Pro-Life Activities, Knights of Columbus, Maryland.

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Over 50 of the living recipients gathered here for a group photo in front of Churchill Downs Paddock area.

Over 50 of the living recipients gathered here for a group photo in front of Churchill Downs Paddock area.

Men of Honor

by Norman Fulkerson

October 11, 2011

On the evening of September 28, 2011 hundreds of Kentuckians gathered in downtown Louisville to catch a glimpse of a distinguished group of men who were visiting the state. The classic red carpet treatment one would expect for such an event was rolled out over a section of Main Street while a gigantic American flag waved overhead.

Those honored to walk this red carpet however were not movie stars or musicians. They were members of the most elite group in America, who earned their fame through blood, sweat and tears. During some point in their lives they had been either shot at, blown up, burned, broken, beaten, starved, imprisoned and in some cases, all of the above. For their heroism they earned our nation’s highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor (MOH).

History of the Medal
Originally created in 1861 by Abraham Lincoln, the Medal is bestowed upon members of the Armed Services who distinguish themselves in battle by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of their life above and beyond the call of duty, while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States. In 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower signed a piece of legislation forming what is known today as the Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMOHS). Since its inception there have been 3458 recipients. There are only 85 living recipients today.

Every year, the Medal of Honor Society holds a convention in a host city for those distinguished service members who have received this prestigious award. The city of Louisville, Kentucky was delighted to have the 2011 convention because this year marks the 150th Anniversary of the medal’s creation and more importantly the most recent recipient of the award, Cpl. Dakota Meyer, hails from nearby Greensburg, Kentucky. Besides being the youngest, he is the first living Marine since the Vietnam War to receive the honor. Although he is a mature and serious 23-year-old man now, he was only 21 when he defied death numerous times to save the lives of his friends.

 

MOH Recipients were treated to lunch in Churchill Downs Millionaire Roll followed by two signature horses provided by the track.

Convention Events
Besides the opening day red carpet treatment dubbed the Walk of Heroes, there were a number of other events which provided locals the chance to meet and honor members of this distinct group. One of the conventions premier events was the Tribute to American Valor held at the Yum Convention Center.

The evening began with a demonstration by the famous Marine Corps Silent Drill Team followed by theatrical narrations of select recipients from wars going all the way back to World War II. When the skit was finished the actual person who performed the deeds would step onto the stadium floor to thunderous applause.

Considering the location of this year’s event, it is not surprising that organizers chose to single out those from the Bluegrass State. Kentucky has had 56 honorees accredited to the state. Don Jenkins, from Quality, Kentucky was working in the coal mines when at 19 he was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam in January of 1969. During an intense fire fight he ran into an exposed area cradling an M-60 machine gun. When it ran out of ammo, he grabbed a rifle, and then made multiple trips through heavy fire to get more ammunition from dead GIs. He later grabbed two anti-tank weapons and ran straight at the enemy once more, taking out two enemy bunkers. After receiving shrapnel wounds in his legs and stomach, Mr. Jenkins heard the cries of help from fellow soldiers trapped in the midst of the battle. He ignored his injuries and went back into the fray on four more occasions and dragged those men to safety. He returned to the U.S. later in the same year, received his medal in 1971 and returned to the coal mines of Kentucky until he was forced to retire in 1999 because of disability.

Sgt. Gary Litrell, a former president of the CMOHS is from Henderson, Kentucky. He earned his medal in Vietnam in 1970 during a four-day battle where he showed superhuman endurance. His was an advisor to 473 fellow Vietnamese Army Rangers who were attacked and almost overwhelmed by 5000 enemy troops. When his commanding officers were killed Sgt. Litrell took command and over the next four days he repeatedly abandoned a position of relative safety to direct artillery and air support, distribute ammunition and help the wounded.

Sgt. Dakota Meyer, the most recent MOH recipient, during press conference held at the Galt House Hotel in Downtown Louisville. .

The best was saved for last when the deeds of Dakota Meyer were recounted. Cpl. Meyer received his medal for saving the lives of 36 American and Afghan soldiers and Marines who were ambushed by a much superior Taliban force in the village of Ganjgal. During a battle which lasted over six hours, Cpl. Meyer made five trips into the fire fight with the certainty he would not come out alive. On a several occasions, he was forced to fire, at point-blank range upon enemy soldiers trying to take over his vehicle.

Cpl. Myer merely stood there with hands folded in silence as the audience applauded the narration of his feats. Like all MOH recipients he feels he did nothing worthy of praise. “I was only doing my job,” he often responds to those who laud his actions.

Visits to Schools
The recipients also took time to participate in an outreach program in which some of them visited fifteen area schools throughout the Jefferson Country public school system. They were received with admiration by star struck youth, who sat up straight, and hung on their every word.

Louisville did something different from other host cities in the past. Each of the recipients received a personalized welcome letter from an area high school student. The envelope carrying the letter described how the class had “read about the Medal of Honor recipients who were coming to the convention and wanted to be sure you knew how much it means to them that you are here.”

Col. Harvey Barnum received a letter from a student at East High School who explained he was contemplating the military life because of the example of men like him. The student then briefly narrated Col. Barnum’s deeds and how he was able to “rally his troops” and “raise the moral of the other units while under heavy fire.”

“This to me is amazing,” he said, “and something I don’t believe I could do. You give me an inspiration and make me want to give back to this country.”

The author left with Col. Walter "Joe" Marm in the lobby of the Galt House Hotel.

“It’s Like They Have a Halo Around Them”
A visit to Louisville would not be complete without a trip to historic Churchill Downs. After taking a look at 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, in the paddock area — brought in especially for the occasion — the heroes were treated to lunch in Churchill Downs 4th floor Millionaire’s Row. Since it was open seating, attendees could pick the hero of their choice to have lunch with. I was honored to sit at the table of Col. Walter Marm. To my left was Cory Etchberger, the son of MOH recipient Richard Etchberger. His father was killed during heroic actions in Vietnam but was only awarded the Medal last year.

He shared his thoughts on the experience of attending his first convention and one particularly interesting story about a lady he bumped into named Michelle. She was in town for a Christian Education convention and at the suggestion of her husband decided to stay on for a couple of days. To her surprise she ran into Cory who explained the convention and the feats of some the men standing around her. She was amazed at her good fortune but overwhelmed when Mr. Etchberger kindly offered to take her picture with MOH recipient Col. James Fleming. She was speechless as she walked away in tears.

I had a similar experience when I spotted Don and Sherry Gilbertson in the Churchill Downs museum. They are from Pebble Beach, Fl. and just happened to be in town for a car show. Mrs. Gilbertson could hardly contain her enthusiasm for the opportunity to just stand in the same room with such heroes. “I feel in awe just being next to them,” she said. “It’s like they have a halo around them.”

When the recipients gathered for a group photo in the paddock area, a lady standing next to me could hardly contain her childlike enthusiasm as she took one picture after another. “Oh, my gosh,” she just kept exclaiming, “oh my gosh!”

On the way out I happened to jump on the elevator with a Churchill Downs employee who felt the need to share his experience of the day. He described watching each of the recipients as they walked across the blue carpet and into the park. “I could hardly keep my eyes dry,” he said.

The distinguished group of Medal of Honor recipients attending this years event. During some point in their lives they had been either shot at, blown up, burned, broken, beaten, starved, imprisoned and in some cases, all of the above. For their heroism they earned our nation’s highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor (MOH).

The author with Sgt. Allan Kellogg.

Informal Conversations
It is hard to describe what it was like being in the midst of such men. It seemed like everywhere you turned you were either in the presence of a hero or someone related. At Churchill Downs, I happened to be standing next to Megan, the 23-year-old daughter of Army Specialist John Baca. He could not make it to the event but she described how her father jumped on a live grenade during the Vietnam War and lived to tell about it. This act of selflessness is not an uncommon thing among American servicemen.

Standing next to her was the daughter of Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg. I had met him the day before and was impressed with the way he calmly told of his encounter with a live ordnance during his 1970 tour in Vietnam. The grenade bounced off his chest and landed at his feet as he was leading his men through a rice paddy. Sgt. Kellogg jammed it into the mud then fell on it. The subsequent explosion knocked his .45 pistol out of his hands and detonated his ammunition belt. In spite of the severity of his injuries, he re-assumed command of his men and led them to safety.

Col. Don Ballard, a hospital corpsman in Vietnam, was also at the convention. On May 16, 1968 his company was ambushed by a North Vietnamese unit. He was caring for a Marine who had been badly wounded when another Marine yelled “grenade.” Col. Ballard refused to allow any harm to his patient and instinctively jumped on it. After what seemed like an eternity — and no explosion — he stood up and threw the grenade which detonated in midair.
World War II veteran Robert Maxwell was not so lucky. He and I chatted in front of Churchill Downs paddock area where he told about the feats which earned him our nation’s highest honor. He was holding some Germans at bay during a firefight with only his .45 pistol. Suddenly a grenade landed in the courtyard of their compound only a few feet away from the door of the command post. His first impulse was to throw it but feared there would be no time to do so. He then decided to smother it with his body so as to save others from injury. What most impressed me about him was his “grandfatherly” kindness and willingness to recount a story he has told so many times before.

These informal conversations were, by far, what made the convention most special. I found myself constantly gravitating between an objective reporter of events and an adoring fan. I was not alone.

Col. Jim Coy is a retired Medic with the Special Operations who served as the senior surgeon with the Army Special Forces. In spite of his own noble service to our country he, like many other hero worshipers, patiently waited as the recipients passed to get their signatures in a beautiful book titled, Medal of Honor; Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Nick Del Calzo and Peter Collier.

Dave Loether proudly unfurls an Army flag with numerous MOH signatures.

Another permanent fixture in the hotel lobby was Dave Loether. His son is currently serving our country in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. Among Mr. Loether’s most prized possessions is a flag he proudly unfurled for me. He had it signed by all the Army MOH recipients as a gift for his son.

“The Biggest Honor I Have Ever Had.”
The convention’s final event was the Patriots Awards Dinner. Officer Patterson stopped me at the entrance to check my identification. He was involved in escorting the recipients and explained how impressed he was at the reception they received from the public. “As each of them arrived in the airport,” he said, “they were welcomed with a standing ovation from passengers. People would approach to touch them and shake their hand.”

During the cocktail hour, a charming Kentuckian named Tonnia was serving hors d’oeuvres with a big smile on her face. “What do you think about this group of men?” I asked. “I feel special just being here,” she responded.

Clay Smith expressed similar sentiments. He was one of the bus drivers hired to transport the recipients during the week’s events. I had seen him earlier in the day holding the door to the entrance of Churchill Downs with one hand, while playing “My Old Kentucky Home,” on a harmonica, with the other. Being a die-hard Kentuckian, I gave him thumbs up for his performance.

He explained how the harmonica was a gift given to him by Sgt. Sammy Davis. When he opened the box I could see it was engraved with Sgt. Davis’ favorite saying, “You don’t lose until you quit trying.

“I cried for over an hour after receiving such a gift,” Mr. Smith said. “I have driven this bus for over 30 years,” he continued, “but this has been the biggest honor I have ever had in my whole life.”

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Private Barney Hajiro is said to have epitomized his unit’s brash motto, “Go for Broke!”

“During one of the 442nd’s fiercest campaigns in dense forests of France’s Vosges Mountains to free the towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, Hajiro on Oct. 29, 1944, led a charge  on “Suicide Hill” drawing fire and single-handedly destroying two machine gun nests and killing two enemy snipers before being wounded by a third machine gun.

“The effort by the nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s I and K companies to rescue Texas 36th Division’s “Lost Battalion” is considered to be one of the key battles in U.S. Army history… “There was shooting coming from all sides. I got hit in my arm … my BAR was hit … and then my helmet was blown off my head.”

“During the battle, an enemy bullet had penetrated Hajiro’s left wrist and severed a nerve. Another bullet had entered his shoulder. His left cheek also was scarred by an enemy bullet.

“Several days earlier Hajiro, while acting as a sentry near Bruyeres, helped allied troops by attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He assisted the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle, killing or wounding two enemy snipers.

“On Oct. 22, he and fellow soldier took up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon, concealed themselves, and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the rest as prisoners.

“Edward Yamasaki, president of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team’s I Company chapter, in his book —  “And Then There Were Eight” — noted that I Company started the battle with 140 riflemen. “Then there only eight soldiers standing at the end.” …To Read more Click HERE.

Medal of Honor Citation:
Private Barney F. Hajiro distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 19, 22, and 29 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, eastern France. Private Hajiro, while acting as a sentry on top of an embankment on 19 October 1944, in the vicinity of Bruyeres, France, rendered assistance to allied troops attacking a house 200 yards away by exposing himself to enemy fire and directing fire at an enemy strong point. He assisted the unit on his right by firing his automatic rifle and killing or wounding two enemy snipers. On 22 October 1944, he and one comrade took up an outpost security position about 50 yards to the right front of their platoon, concealed themselves, and ambushed an 18-man, heavily armed, enemy patrol, killing two, wounding one, and taking the remainder as prisoners. On 29 October 1944, in a wooded area in the vicinity of Biffontaine, France, Private Hajiro initiated an attack up the slope of a hill referred to as “Suicide Hill” by running forward approximately 100 yards under fire. He then advanced ahead of his comrades about 10 yards, drawing fire and spotting camouflaged machine gun nests. He fearlessly met fire with fire and single-handedly destroyed two machine gun nests and killed two enemy snipers. As a result of Private Hajiro’s heroic actions, the attack was successful. Private Hajiro’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, his unit, and the United States Army.

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SSG Salvatore Giunta will receive the Medal of Honor

By Michelle Tan

“Staff  Sgt. Salvatore Giunta will be the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War…

“…The Medal of Honor awarded to Giunta will be the eighth since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The seventh, also for actions in Afghanistan, was announced Thursday and will be awarded posthumously to Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller.”

To read more Click Here.

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