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The Medal of Honor.....


The Medal of Honor is America's highest award for military heroism.  Teddy Roosevelt lobbied for one but never received it, and General George Patton said "I'd sell my immortal soul for that medal."  Since World War II of the 838 men who earned it, 513 died for it.

During presentations of the Medal of Honor during World War II President Harry Truman was known to often state, "I would rather have the blue band of the Medal of Honor around my neck than to be President."  Then, as he would place America's highest award around the neck of a REAL American hero, he confered both a great honor and a heavy responsibility.

Navy corpsman Don Ballard, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Vietnam has said, "It's harder to wear the medal than to earn it."  Imagine taking a young soldier who, in a moment of utmost terror and devastation demonstrated an act of immense valor and intrepidity, then sending him from that war zone to our Nation'sballard.jpg (19477 bytes) Capitol where he is saluted by generals and praised by the President.  His life is suddenly and irrevocably changed, his future no longer his own, his lot in life the shared preservation of a unique heritage shared with men like Sergeant York, Jimmy Doolittle, General Douglas MacArthur, Audie Murphy, and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  Though none of the men who humbly wear the small 5-pointed star that hangs from the Medal's blue ribbon would ever admit it publically, over the course of a lifetime it can come to "weigh a ton".

Above:  Vietnam medic, Medal of Honor recipient Don Ballard spends time visiting with a disabled veteran of World War II's D-Day invasion during patriotic July 4th activities.

The men who have received the Medal of Honor uniquely represent a cross-section of our Nation as a whole.   They include a 14 year old Civil War drummer boy, a former slave, the sons of two United States Presidents, a former pro football player, and even troubled teens who had been told "join the military or go to jail".   They hailed from mid-west farm families, urban barrios, blue-collar steel cities, and New York "high society".  They come from all races, some born in the United States and others born on foreign soil.  World War II hero Silvestre Herrera was surprised to learn on the day he received his draft notice, that he wasn't even an American citizen.  The man he had thought for 24 years was his father finally told him the truth..."You were brought across the border from Mexico after your parents died when you were an infant, and I've raised you as my own son ever since."  Determined to serve his adopted Country, Silvestre studied to become a U.S. citizen while fighting in Europe in action that would not only bring him the Medal of Honor, but Mexico's highest award for valor.

Some of these heroes went on to become household names, movie stars, or successful businessmen.  Others settled into quiet, simple lifestyles in their home-towns.  Still others have died in poverty and obscurity...forgotten by the Nation they gave so much to preserve.  But all of them lived humbly, awed by the aweson responsibility they carried in being recognized as an American hero.  Selcom, if indeed ever,lemon_deputy.jpg (14961 bytes) has a recipient used his medal for personal gain for profit.  Rather, the Medal becomes for them a symbol of the valor and sacrifice of their fellow soldiers who did not receive the Medal, but never-the- less served and often died, to preserve freedom.   Canadian born Vietnam hero Pete Lemon recently told a group of 7th grade students, "Whenever you see the Medal, you see millions of people out there who have given their service and sacrificed for your freedom.

Above:  Pete Lemon presents an award to a wounded, heroic sheriff's deputy in Colorado.

When the President places that blue band around a young soldier's neck, he also confers on him the responsibility to uphold the standards and dignity of all who have received it....he becomes a living symbol of all 40 million Americans who have served the cause of freedom in uniform.  Though that hero's celebrity-status quickly vanishes, the personal responsibility of the Medal recipient becomes a life-time commitment.  For the rest of his life he receives letters requesting photos and autographs, is asked to speak in schools and before veterans' groups, and much more....usually without honorarium and often at his own expense.  Recently 77 year old World War II hero Desmond Doss, with only 48 hours advance notice, traveled 1500 miles from his home in Georgia to speak in 3 elementary schools when the previously scheduled Medal of Honor speaker fell ill and couldn't attend.  But that's not unusual for the man President Truman told upon presentation of the Medal, "I consider this a greater honor than being President."  Desmond NEVER turns down an opportunity to speak to American youth about patriotism, service and responsibility.

In 1965 the United States Congress revised previous legislation regarding Medal of Honor recipients to provide each with a monthly $100 pension (it is now $400).  Desmond Doss used much of his small pension, as well as other personal income, to help establish and fund the Civilian Defense Rescue Service in Walker County, Georgia.  In April, 1966 this newly organized group worked around the clock in a dark, wet, gas-filled cavern to save seven boy scouts and their leader who had become lost.  Desmond himself spent more consecutive hours in that cave, working harder, than anyone else.

Below:  World War II hero Bill Crawford poses with Jason Phillips and his family after presenting an award to the 10 year old boy for his outstanding community service.

crawford_jason.jpg (12906 bytes)The Medal of Honor is a National Treasure, a monument not unlike the Iwo Jima memorial and others in Washington, D.C. and throughout our Nation that stand in testimony to the courage and fortitude of the American spirit.   Imagine for a moment that our monuments could speak.  What stories we could hear if the Statue of Liberty could talk to us, how inspired as Americans we would be if the faces on Mount Rushmore could relate their life stories.

That is what makes the Medal of Honor unlike most other monuments to our heritage.  Today the Medal has slightly more than 150 voices to personally share stories of sacrifice and valor....role-models to inspire future generations to continue the traditions that make America great.  As a Nation we must do everything we can to capture this moment while we still have opportunity.  Of those 150+ voices more than 100 are over age 65.  The day will come when, like the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore, there will be no voice for this American symbol....only memories.  One of our greatest American symbols is endangered, soon to become extinct.  As parents, as educators, as veterans, as Americans we need to take every step we can to preserve this proud heritage.

okc_award.jpg (11294 bytes)

Above:  Medal of Honor recipients John Baker, Jr. (RVN) and Jack Lucas (WWII) present Pueblo's Jimmie Howard Memorial Award to a group of Oklahoma City Rescue Workers in 1995.  Shown here accepting the award for the 17 attending rescue workers is Oklahoma City Police Chief Sam Gonzales who led the rescue effort after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building and Police Chaplain Jack Poe.



[History of the Medal of Honor]  [[The First Presentation]
 [Development of the Medal in Appearance] [Time Line of MOH History
  [MOH Statistics]   [Interesting Facts about the Medal
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[MOH Museum]    [National Medal of Honor Day]    [Links]

Editorial Page
[Medal of Honor -- BLESSING or BURDEN]


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The text of this page was originally written and printed in a brochure mailed to all members of Congress to encourage support in the 105th Congress for:
*HR 1988 - a resolution calling for legislation establishing a Cost of Living Increase in the pension paid to Medal of Honor recipients (Sponsored by Scott McInnis R/CO)
*HR 2286 - a resolution calling for legislation to increase the monthly pension from $400 to $800 per month for Medal of Honor recipients (Sponsored by Scott McInnis R/CO)

Unfortunately both resolutions died with adjournment of the 105th Congress due to a lack of interest and support.  The Medal of Honor stipend was later raised to $600 per month... still I feel, far too little considering all that these great men do in volunteer service each year.


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Unless otherwise noted, all materials by C. Douglas Sterner

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