Cohen, USO Honor Glenn, Five Troop Heroes (corrected copy)
By Scott Gruber
Special to American Forces Press Service
NEW YORK, Dec. 13, 1999 Defense Secretary William S. Cohen honored former Ohio Sen. John Glenn and five enlisted men, Dec. 10, during the USO's 1999 Holiday Gala aboard the Intrepid Sea- Air-Space Museum in New York City.
Cohen, his wife Janet Langhart Cohen, the armed forces service chiefs and a host of entertainers attended the fund-raising gala hosted by former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Carl E. Mundy. Mundy is the United Service Organizations president and chief executive officer.
Before joining Mundy to present the awards, Cohen lauded the USO for it's service to America's troops. He said the USO is a bridge linking military men and women to the citizens they serve.
"Civilian volunteers serving the military," Cohen said. "Every time you reach out with a hug or a handshake to those who wear the uniform -- every time you say, 'You are in our hearts; America cares' -- the bond between America and its military, indeed the very fabric of the nation itself, grows that much stronger."
The defense secretary presented the USO's Spirit of Hope award to Glenn in recognition of his years of advocacy for the men and women of the armed forces, and his contributions to aviation and space exploration. The award is presented to distinguished Americans whose patriotism and service to the troops reflects that of Bob Hope.
In November 1997, Hope was designated the first honorary veteran of the United States Armed Forces for his decades of entertaining troops, around the world in peace and war. Other recipients of the Spirit of Hope award include Johnny Grant, the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood; the Country Music Association; South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond; Mary Sethness, a USO volunteer for over 56 years; Walter Cronkite and Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.
Glenn entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in March 1942, and was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1943. During World War II, he flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific. During the Korean War, he flew 63 missions with Marine Fighter Squadron 311 and 27 missions as an exchange pilot with the Air Force.
For his service in World War II and Korea, he received numerous awards and commendations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross (on six occasions), the Air Medal with 18 Clusters, the Navy Unit Commendation, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the American Campaign Medal.
Following his service in Korea, Glenn won an assignment as a Marine test pilot, and set a transcontinental speed record in 1957, for the first supersonic flight from Los Angeles to New York. In 1959, Glenn was selected to be one of the seven astronauts of NASA's Project Mercury. On Feb. 20, 1962, he made history as the first American to orbit the earth, completing three orbits in his 5-hour flight.
Glenn retired from the Marine Corps as a colonel in 1965, becoming a business executive with Royal Crown Cola. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974, where he served on the Governmental Affairs committee. Glenn made history again as the first popularly elected senator from Ohio to win four consecutive terms.
In 1998, Glenn returned to space as a payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. During the nine-day mission, which orbited the earth 134 times, Glenn conducted research on space flight and the aging process.
Cohen then presented Service Member of the Year awards to an enlisted member of each service.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Mathew Bailey, assigned to Coast Guard Station, Atlantic City, N.J., received the "USO Coast Guardsman of the Year" award. While on patrol off the coast of Atlantic City, Bailey received a radio call indicating that a young boy and woman were in danger of drowning in the surf.
Although his boat was not rated for surf conditions, Bailey maneuvered the boat into the breaking waves and was able to maintain the boat's position long enough to pull the victims aboard. Both victims were taken by on-scene paramedics to the hospital, though the woman unfortunately never regained consciousness. However, Bailey's courage and dedication to duty saved the life of the child.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Daniel M. Briehl, stationed with at Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, Calif., received the "USO Marine of the Year" award. Briehl was a security guard at the American Embassy in Kenya, Aug. 7, 1998, when the building was ripped apart by terrorist bombs. Already cut and bruised by flying debris and glass, Briehl immediately entered the building to look for survivors.
Even after sustaining additional injuries from a two-story fall down an elevator shaft, Briehl continued to dig through the rubble, freeing trapped survivors. Briehl has received numerous awards for his bravery, including the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
Navy Petty Officer Nathan L. Moore stationed at Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Six, Naval Air Station, North Island, Calif., received the "USO Sailor of the Year" award. Moore was recognized for his ongoing service on the potentially deadly flight deck of an aircraft carrier. His keen eye, hard work, and dedication to the Navy's core values, as well as that of the sailors he trains, have averted numerous accidents, and saved the lives of countless pilots and crew members.
Air Force TSgt. James L. Morrison II assigned to the 16th Airlift Squadron (Special Operations) in Charleston, S.C., received the award for "USO Airman of the Year" award. Morrison was performing scanner duties on a C-141B cargo plane fully loaded with personnel and vehicles when a phosphorus signal flare was inadvertently launched inside the cargo compartment, landing under the engine of one of the vehicles.
Without hesitation, Morrison immediately swept the burning flare out from under the vehicle and initiated smoke and fume elimination procedures. His quick thinking prevented a potential disaster and possibly saved the lives of 92 service members.
Army Sgt. Christopher Voldarski, D Company, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., received the "USO Soldier of the Year" award. While serving as a member of the security and peacekeeping force for Task Force Falcon, Voldarski noticed a pair of suspicious men looting a house where a recently returned refugee and her small daughter lived. Voldarski detained the men, forced them to return the stolen items, and ensured the safety of the woman and her daughter, who were hiding in a closet.
The USO is a congressionally-chartered, nonprofit organization providing morale support to the men and women of the Armed Forces. The USO receives no direct government funding.
For nearly 60 years, the USO has provided entertainment programs to service men and women abroad. The USO's mission is to remind the troops that those at home care, as well as to remind those at home that there are still thousands of service members in harm's way, many in remote locations around the world.
For more information on contributing to the USO, please call 1-800-876-7469 or visit the Web site at www.uso.org/
(Editor's note: Gruber works for the USO)