March 25, 2012 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Honoring Bravery and Self-Sacrifice on National Medal of Honor

They call them “Honor Flights.” The airplanes bring veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour memorials that honor their service. The oldest vets -- those from World War II -- get preference. 

But an Honor Flight this past Thursday bore some extra-special passengers. “Flagship Liberty” made just a short hop -- from NYC’s LaGuardia to DC’s Reagan National. 

On board was a remarkable platoon: all members of the nation’s small company of living Medal of Honor recipients.

Whatever you do, don’t call them “winners.” Yes, the Medal of Honor is the highest award given to an American military service member. It recognizes extreme courage and intrepidity during combat. But every recipient would tell you, they didn’t “win” anything.

They don’t like to be called winners… or heroes either.

The men who wear the blue ribbon see themselves as representing all who have served their nation with courage and character.

After all, since the Medal of Honor was established during the Civil War, more than 40 million Americans have defended their nation. Fewer than 3,500 have received the Medal of Honor, but they stand up for all “American citizens who have demonstrated courage and selflessness in their daily lives,” said Silas R. Johnson, Jr., president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. 

The men aboard “Flagship Liberty” have come to Washington to make just that point. 

March 25 is Medal of Honor Day, marking the 149th anniversary of the presentation of the first medal. To mark the occasion, the delegation will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

Only a few dozen Medal of Honor recipients are still with us. Sadly, America lost one just this week. But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this elite Band of Brothers is that, after all their extraordinary service and sacrifice under arms, they are still giving to their nation.

Much of their selfless legacy is accomplished through the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and its educational curriculum at Teaching lessons in character, from the experience of those who served, the online curriculum offers brief videos presenting living biographies of more than 100 Medal of Honor recipients. These testimonials provide the basis for a six-part curriculum that teaches students how to better understand and emulate the virtues of courage, integrity, sacrifice, commitment, citizenship and patriotism.

The interdisciplinary character development resource, “Medal of Honor: Lessons of Personal Bravery and Self-Sacrifice,” uses the oral histories of Medal of Honor recipients to convey to high school and college students that not only in military circumstances, but in everyday life, everyone can demonstrate courage and sacrifice.

As long as America produces men and women like these recipients, it will be a nation worthy of these recipients. Their work with the Medal of Honor Foundation aims to make sure that every generation of Americans may rise to become “the greatest generation.”

James Jay Carafano is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in