It was on this day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln approved legislation authorizing the preparation of 2,000 Medals of Honor to “be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such non-commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities.” The Medal of Honor had been initiated the previous year as an award given by the U.S. Navy. Today it is the highest award given to U.S. military personnel in the line of duty.
Since then, more than 3,400 people have received this medal. Some have been dubious, such as the soldiers who were awarded the medals for their actions in the tragic 1890 “Wounded Knee” massacre. But, in the recent Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, the medals have taken on new significance and enhanced value. Recipients almost have to die to get one. These aren’t perfect attendance awards! In an ideal world, no such awards would be given because war wouldn’t occur. But alas, this isn’t a utopian universe. Regardless this is my personal salute to all MOH recipients and all military personnel.
The term hero gets tossed around quite a bit these days, especially in the entertainment and sports mediums. But, I’ve always thought people who wear helmets in battle should be as revered as those who wear them on a football field. U.S. Army Sgt. Clinton Romesha definitely fits the hero definition: quiet, unimposing and truly brave. Today President Obama awarded Romesha the prestigious Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award. Romesha is only the fourth living recipient of the medal since the Vietnam War.
Romesha received the award for actions he took while wounded during a day-long firefight in Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan in October 2009. More than 300 Taliban attacked Keating from all sides. Only 53 Americans and 2 Latvians occupied Keating at the time. A number of Afghan allies had already abandoned the site. Romesha was wounded while trying to take out a second team of Taliban fighters. Nonetheless, he led a group of his men to recover the bodies of downed American servicemen; moving some 100 yards with a bullet wound.
Romesha left the Army in 2011 and now works in a North Dakota oil field. He’s married with a young son. Watching him earlier today, as he received the medal, it was clear he was emotional; perhaps thinking of his fellow countrymen who died. He’s small in stature and seems somewhat reserved. But, the latter quality is what makes a genuine heroic figure. He’s not brash and arrogant. He’s just a simple man who accomplished an extraordinary feat. Many of these alleged sports heroes could learn from him. So could the rest of us.