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Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado


The Denver Post

March 12, 2003

Vet Defends Memories of Gallantry

By Cate Terwilliger
Denver Post Southern Colorado Bureau

Pueblo -- This town used to be known as the "Pittsburgh of the West," a reference to its once-thriving steel industry.  But a decade ago, it earned a more memorable moniker, one bestowed by Congress: America's Home Of Heroes.

In 1993, the title distinguished Pueblo as the only United States city with four living Medal of Honor recipients.  Two of the men--Marine Capt. Carl Sitter, cited for heroics in Korea, and Army Pvt. William Crawford, who served in World War II -- have since died.  The others -- 2nd Lt. Raymond Murphy (Korea) and Army Staff Sgt. Drew Dix (Vietnam) -- no longer live in Pueblo.

But the town's memorials to recipients of the nation's highest military honor endure, thanks largely to the efforts of one passionate patriot.

"Doug Sterner has literally given not only his physical and mental life, but also his financial well-being to the betterment of our society's understanding of the Medal of Honor," say Colorado Springs Vietnam veteran Pete Lemon, one of two Medal of Honor recipients who live in Colorado.

Over the last decade, Sterner--himself a Vietnam veteran with two Bronze Stars -- has forged a reputation as an encyclopedic expert on the Medal of Honor, awarded for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty."  He'll tell you, for instance, that Pueblo Central High School is the only high school to have generated two Medal of Honor recipients: Crawford (class of 1936) and Sitter (class of '40).

That's one of thousands of facts Sterner, 53, keeps on file in his mental Rolodex -- and on 70,000 pages of a website that keeps growing in content and popularity. Last month alone, www.homeofheroes.com registered more than 4 million hits. There, you'll find the world's most comprehensive library on the Medal of Honor -- history, statistics, all 3,459 award citations, expanded stories of gallantry under fire -- and more.

Sterner's favorite tale is that of pacifist Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist he calls "the greatest of all the heroes."

Mocked by comrades and nearly drummed out of the service by superiors disgusted with his refusal to kill, the lanky medic saved 75 lives under heavy fire at Okinawa by lowering each wounded man by rope down an escarpment. In the days that followed, Doss repeatedly put his life at risk to save others; after being wounded himself, he crawled off the litter to make room for a more critically injured man.

Defensive actions -- those intended to save the lives of others -- account for at least half the awards, Sterner says. Others are bestowed in recognition of the fighting spirit displayed by World War II veteran George "Joe" Sakato, who lives near Denver.

Sakato's family escaped internment at the beginning of the war only by leaving their California home. Nonetheless, he says, "we were Americans, and this was our country...We had to prove our loyalty to the United States, so we wanted to fight the Germans.

By 1944, Sakato was in the thick of the fighting in France, where his unit fell under heavy enemy fire. After a friend died in his arms, Sakato grabbed his Thompson submachine gun and led a charge that inspired his comrades to take a hill that provided a crucial vantage point. During the action, Sakato personally killed 12 German soldiers, wounded two and captured four. The Distinguished Service Cross he won that day was upgraded in 2000 to a Medal of Honor, as were 21 other Service Crosses won by Japanese-American soldiers.

In an age in which the term "hero" is sprinkled about as casually as salt, Sterner is determined that Americans remember the meaning of true heroism.

"During the 1950s, everybody knew what the Medal of Honor was: You had Audie Murphy, you had Jimmy Doolittle, you had three Medal of Honor recipients on the cover of Life," he says.  "Today, outside of Pueblo, I would venture to say that probably 90 out of 100 people could not identify the Medal of Honor if they say it, and that includes veterans."

Sterner's efforts to rescue the medal from obscurity have borne tangible results. He helped orchestrate a convention of Medal of Honor recipients in Pueblo three years ago, an occasion that saw the unveiling of imposing bronze statues of Crawford, Sitter, Murphy and Dix outside the Pueblo Convention Center and a permanent Medal of Honor display within.

His energies now are consumed by keeping and growing the website. Sterner works on the project 80 to 100 hours a week, sandwiched between his duties as a Pueblo Community College business technology instructor and his responsibility as a husband to wife Pam, whom he calls "My hero") and father to four children.  He's also chairman of the State Board of Veterans Affairs. That leaves roughly four hours a night for sleep, but that's not what worries him.

Sterner says hosting fees and associated expenses for the site run about $500 a month; last year, he shut down homeofheroes.com for two months when cash ran out.  While he accepts commercial sponsors to "pay the bills and keep us online and growing," Sterner recoils at generating revenue from the site; to do so, he says, would cheapen the medal and the men it honors.

"I have seen him sacrifice financially in many different ways to keep this website running," says Medal of Honor recipient Lemon. "I wish there were a corporation or two that was bold enough to financially support him in making sure this site continues to run in perpetuity."

That would allow Sterner to realize his dream of continuing to enrich his vast virtual memorial to America's heroes without having to worry over its future.

"It's become not so much a passion as a responsibility," he says.  There's just so much more I can do."

Some Facts about the Medal of Honor

Puebloan Doug Sterner is the nation's top expert on the Medal of Honor.
His Website, www.homeofheroes.com, includes an exhaustive history of America's highest military honor and stories of the men--and sold woman--who earned the right to wear it.

Some Facts:

  • The Medal of Honor was established in 1862 to promote efficiency in the Navy.

  • The only female Medal of Honor recipient was Dr. Mary Walker, a civilian volunteer who tended the wounded under intense fire at Bull Run, Chickamauga and other Civil War battlefields.

  • Nearly two-thirds of Medals of Honor since the beginning of World War II have been awarded posthumously.

  • Medals of Honor are accredited according to the soldier's place of enlistment; 24 of the 3,459 awarded to date are accredited to Colorado. New York, with 663, has the most recipients.

  • World War II vet and Medal of Honor recipient Bill Crawford worked unrecognized as a janitor at the Air Force Academy until 1976, when a cadet recognized his name in a historical account of the allied ground campaign in Italy.

Publish Date Wednesday, March 12, 200d
2003 The Denver Post

Top Photo of Doug Sterner by Chuck Bigger
Photo of George Sakato by Kirk Speer (Special to the Post)

 

 

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