Myers: Medal of Honor Recipients 'Set Standard' for Today
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2005 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told 70 Medal of Honor recipients today they've set the standard for today's military men and women who he said, "like you, represent the best of American values."
Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
center, looks through a book honoring Medal of Honor recipients at the 2005
Medal of Honor Society Luncheon in Washington, D.C., Jan. 19. With him are
former Navy Lt. John Finn, 95, the oldest living recipient of the award, left,
and Retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Littrell, president of the Medal of
Honor Society. Photo by Mamie Mae Burke
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers hosted the gathering of heroes here at the 2005 Medal of Honor Society Luncheon. The event, also attended by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, has become a traditional part of the presidential inauguration activities.
Myers thanked the veterans for serving their nation with an understanding that "freedom is not free, and that it is paid for with the currency of courage and sacrifice."
Despite coming from "all walks of life imaginable," he said, all demonstrated a common trait: "extraordinary courage to risk your lives to defend freedom and to protect your comrades in arms."
He paid a special tribute to 95-year-old Navy Lt. John Finn, the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient, who earned the award for actions in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, when he was a chief petty officer.
Finn "showed the enemy it would take more than surprise to break the spirit of the American people," Myers said. And, Finn and his fellow Medal of Honor recipients demonstrated through their actions a "determination that the enemy could not defeat you or the ideals of the nation you were serving," he told the group.
These are the same characteristics the chairman said today's men and women in uniform, many of them in harm's way, exhibit every day.
Those who have earned the Medal of Honor continue to serve to this day, he said, providing an ongoing source of inspiration and an example for the servicemembers who follow in their footsteps.
"Like you, they serve bravely and humbly and they ask for no personal reward," the chairman said. "Like you, they have been relentless and courageous in upholding their oath to serve our country." And like you, Myers told the group, today's servicemembers have placed the freedom of others before their own personal safety.
"The story is the same," Myers said. "They are the same ordinary citizens, doing extraordinary things."
"They're doing the right thing," said Arthur J. Jackson of today's men and women fighting the global war on terror. Jackson, of Boise, Idaho, earned the Medal of Honor in 1944 while serving with the Marines in Pelieu in the South Pacific.
"There's nothing more precious than our freedom," Jackson said, and today's military men and women "have responded to the call" and are "doing a fabulous job."
"Thank goodness they are doing what they are doing, or we wouldn't be able to enjoy the freedoms we have today," said former Army Col. Jack Jacobs, who earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam in 1968.
Jacobs said he thinks of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who serve their country "all the time" and believes the recognition they are receiving for their duty is long overdue. "It's important that we recognize them," he said. "They are carrying a big burden."
Former Army Sgt. Sammy L. Davis, an artilleryman in Vietnam in 1967 when he earned the Medal of Honor, said the nation's recognition of its men and women in uniform reflects a growing understanding of the price of freedom and security. "Freedom is not free," said the Flat Rock, Ill., resident. "And it's up to us back at home to help others remember that."
Davis said a highlight of his visit to Washington so far has been the opportunity to meet some of the men and women being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center for wounds they received in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I just spent time hugging them," he said.
Retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Littrell, president of the Medal of Honor Society, said there's no "common denominator" that describes the 129 living recipients of the nation's highest military honor.
Most, if asked how they earned the award, say they were simply doing their job, said the St. Pete Beach, Fla., resident, who earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam in April 1970.
Pointing to the medal draped around his neck, he said those who have earned the medal wear it, not for themselves, but for their comrades in arms who made the ultimate sacrifice.
"If you ask any of the recipients who wear the award, they'll tell you that it's not for us, but for those who can't," agreed Jacobs. "For every recipient of an award for valor, there are many, many more who were never recognized. We're individual representatives of those men and women."