Thank you Gen. Dempsey, Dr. Westphal, Dr. Stanley and Gen. Foley.
Let me welcome all of you to the Hall of Heroes—especially the Kaho’ohanohano and Svehla families, who have traveled so far, and given so much, for this day. Today we honor Privates First Class Anthony Kaho’ohanohano and Henry Svehla in a tradition that dates back to the Civil War.
It was 150 years ago last month that the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter. The bloody conflict that followed touched every corner of our young nation. Over half a million men died on both sides—more than have perished in all of our others wars combined. In the midst of this struggle that was literally tearing apart the nation, President Lincoln signed into law a medal to recognize extraordinary bravery.
It was to be “bestowed upon such petty officers, seamen, landsmen, and Marines as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry and other seamanlike qualities during the present war." That medal is the Medal of Honor.
Its first recipient, Private Jacob Wilson Parrott, took part in a daring mission behind enemy lines. Though his unit’s mission to destroy a Confederate supply line was thwarted, Parrott and several others were recognized for their courageous actions with the Medal of Honor. Parrott’s citation, a single sentence in length, began our tradition of recognizing uncommon bravery on the battlefield.
In the years since the Civil War, we have sent tens of millions of Americans into battle to defend their country. But fewer than 3500 of them have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Its award is so rare because the feat of bravery it recognizes is so exceptional. The names of some medal recipients grace history: President Theodore Roosevelt, General Douglas MacArthur. But most are ordinary Americans who took extraordinary action on the battlefield.
The Hall of Heroes where we gather pays tribute to them. Today we add two more men to this select roster. Like many who came before them, Private Kaho’ohanohano and Private Svehla fought on foreign soil in defense of freedom. Far from the families who loved them, they made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Although it has been 60 years since the Korean conflict, the example of their valor still endures.
Private Kaho’ohanohano will be forever remembered for the lone assault that saved his comrades and then inspired their counterattack. His last words—reportedly “‘I’ve got your back.”—are a creed our soldiers carry with them today, whenever they go in harms way.
Private Svehla similarly put the security of his fellow troops above his own life. His courageous counterattack after being fired upon during a recon mission saved his unit from total defeat. In throwing himself on a grenade, he gave the last full measure of his devotion to his men and the country he swore to defend.
Throughout our history, men and women like Anthony and Henry have courageously answered the call of duty. Heroes like them have stepped up when our nation needed them most. The uncommon valor they displayed is what the Medal of Honor stands for, what our country was built on, and what will allow it to endure.
Today we also recognize the incalculable cost borne by the families who join us here. Lincoln himself was keenly aware of the burden they bear. In his stirring letter to Mrs. Bixby, a widow thought to have lost five sons during the Civil War, he wrote:
“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.”
“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
So today, as we remember Anthony and Henry, we also honor their families, and all those who have lost loved ones in freedom’s name. Thank you.