Defense Leaders Host Luncheon for Medal of Honor Heroes
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2009 America’s most senior defense leaders honored 43 men who risked their lives with unmatched heroism in service to their country during a luncheon here today.
The men honored had all earned the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, and they will attend the presidential inauguration as honored guests tomorrow.
“More than 1,500 Medals of Honor were awarded in the Civil War,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told the men. “In the century-and-a-half since, whenever the United States has been forced into action on the battlefield, wherever we have been forced to defend and re-consecrate our values with blood, our men and women in uniform have answered the call.”
Since President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation authorizing the award in 1861, there have been 3,448 recipients.
Americans have fought and bled from the killing fields of Antietam, to the trenches of France. Their valor has been seen from the beaches of Iwo Jima, to the hills of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, and the streets of Mogadishu. Today, Americans are fighting in a war on terrorism during which five Americans have received the Medal of Honor – all posthumously.
“Of the countless stories of bravery that ring through our country’s history, yours are the greatest and most gallant,” Gates said.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised the character of the men being honored.
“These heroes have some amazing stories,” Mullen said. “To a man, they would tell you they were just doing their duty. They are as humble as they are brave.”
Mullen said the contributions of the Medal of Honor recipients cannot be measured just in acts of heroism, but must include the futures that all enjoy because of their sacrifices.
An example was that of the most recent medal recipient, Army Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis, who threw himself on a hand grenade in Iraq to save his fellow soldiers. The men that McGinnis died to save have their tomorrows because of his action, Mullen said.
“We are surrounded by people who have given more than they or we could imagine,” he said. “They are not just names on a wall. Each has provided us with far more than inspiring profiles, more than just accounts of incredible courage. They have given us simple things, meaningful things, things too often taken for granted.”
Mullen said the heritage that the men in the room, and soldiers like McGinnis represent will continue.
“In the decades to come there will likely be more, not just because the horrors of combat demand heroic action, but because we are and always will be surrounded by heroes: special individuals who, in their minds, will only be doing their duty and who will do the right things at the right time,” he said.
“It’s the soldier on patrol. The Marine on point. The airman overhead. The sailor on watch. The Coast Guardsman protecting our shores. And out there among them lies the spirit of sacrifice that goes above and beyond the call of duty,” he said.
These individuals do not perform these deeds for glory, he said. Rather it’s “because everyday courage and battlefield circumstance will collide,” he said. “We can’t teach this sacrifice, we can’t predict it, but we can – and we must always – honor it.”