In 1968 Peter graduated from High School with, as he would describe it... "a less than favorable grade point." He was known in those days as a happy go lucky typical teen.. not very serious about many things. He'd take up labour jobs to make ends meet and within a year he moved to Saganaw and joined the army.
It would be at Tay Minh Province that Sergeant Lemon's incredible feats would later result in his being awarded the Medal of Honor.
His men had established Fire Support Base Illingworth and came under very heavy enemy fire. Lemon was an assistant machine gunner and he used it to hold off the attack. When it failed he picked up a rifle, when that failed he used hand grenades and finally he fought hand to hand. All this while having already been wounded by shell fragments. During all of this he managed to haul a wounded comrade back to friendly lines but found his position about to be overrun. He was wounded a second and then a third time while engaged in more hand grenade attacks and hand to hand fighting. The enemy was now on the retreat but he stood up in a very exposed position of some high ground and fought off other stragglers. Finally he collapsed from exhaustion and from the pain of his wounds.
Waking up at an aide station, he refused treatment until the more seriously wounded were first helped and evacuated. Soon Lemon was back in the US and his military days were over. But then he learned that he was to be awarded a Medal of Honor. His first reaction was to refuse it as he felt those lying on the battlefield deserved it far more than he.
But he ultimately went to Washington DC where President Nixon made the presentation at the White House in June 1971. He then returned home and kept the medal locked away, not wearing it or even telling most people he had it.
Lemon would then find work again in labouring in the carpentry trade and in running a roofing company. But in 1975 he realized that to get ahead he needed to get some better education. He then sold everything he owned accept what was on his back and hitchhiked to Fort Collins with his MOH in his pocket.
His less than admirable high school marks came back to haunt him when the President of the Colorado University, the state governor and others whom he pleaded with for acceptance in the university refused him. He then learned one of the most important lessons in his life. Perseverance. He would visit the university officials every week or two... for about seven months pleading his case. Finally he got the break he needed. He was told that he could attend the summer school program but he had to take two courses, and had to get a point 2 average. If he could do that, they would allow him to register for regular schooling. And Lemon did that... and more. He took 3 classes and got a 3 point average. Over the next three years he would take the required training an earn a degree. Not stopping there he continued his education and got a Master's degree. Many years later he would become a professor in residence at the university.
Peter Lemon entered the world of business in a big way when he bought a construction company and was soon building service stations in five different states. That would just be a start. He'd enter the insurance business in a big way and was soon smartened up about his "hidden" Medal of Honor, that was rarely talked about. It took about 13 years in the making. And it would be from a fellow veteran who called him up one day and they got taking about the medal. When asked if he wears it he said no. When asked why, he insisted that it was not his...that it belong to the platoon he was in, and more importantly to 3 comrades who died that day so many years earlier. Lemon added that he would give up the medal in an instant to have his three comrades back with him alive. He was told that he could not cut the medal up in over a dozen pieces, that he needed to take it out of the shoebox it was hidden in and to start wearing it. By doing so he would be forced to honor those whom he truly respected and would be continually reminded of their sacrifices, and telling the world about those men left behind. That was his job...his calling...and to get on with it.
And so Peter Lemon did that. He took it out of the box and started wearing it and talking and talking and talking and is today one of the most gifted and sought after motivation speakers in the United States.
A great story tells you about the man. He was at a school talking to the children... not about war... but about trying your best... and not giving up just because the going got tough. To keep going until you succeed. When the floor was opened for questions, a child asked Peter what a real Medal of Honor looked like. No one in the room had every seen one before...including the reporter in the back of the room patiently waiting to interview him.
He did what only Peter Lemon could do. He took out a blue presentation box from his pocket, took out his medal and went up to the child and allowed the child to take it in hand... to look at it... to feel it and then pass it on. Everyone in the room that day held a Medal of Honor, the nation's highest of bravery medals. When asked later if he wasn't worried about losing it Peter responded with...what good is it if I cannot show it to people... and tell the people the stories they need to hear.
When Peter was invited to come back to his high school and give a motivational talk he was excited about going. he carried with him a silver wrapped parcel. Inside this was a brown paper wrapped item. After his talk he presented this to the President of the school. It was his Medal of Honor in a frame. The entire gathering immediately rose to their feet an gave a thunderous applause. The president was in tears, as no doubt were many others in the room that day.
That's the type of man Peter Lemon was... and is today.
Years ago President Jimmy Carter presented Peter with the Certificate of Outstanding Achievement for his humanitarian efforts. Recently President Obama presented him with the Outstanding American by Choice award.
The list of accolades Peter Lemon has earned over the years and the who's who of American who have acknowledged his work would take several blogs to do the subject justice.
I encourage you to go to his web site, order his book, and get to know this truly international hero.
And check these out... http://www.peterlemon.com/VIDEO.html
Peter was born at Toronto on 5 June 1950. That was 63 years ago today.
Happy Birthday Peter.
You have made every Canadian proud!