Those following the blogs in this space of late know that I spent last week at Gettysburg Pa gathering research materials and photos and attended an memorial unveiling in honour of the last living Medal of Honor recipients. It was a very long week and full of events to attend and work to do and considerable loss of sleep with work days double what I am used to. But again, it was all worth it.
About 500 veterans and members of the public came out to a local hotel and lined up in an outer area waiting for their turn to get in to meet these heroes. The area was well guarded and without a pass you did not make it past the several levels of security. Each person was given a pass over the internet that had to be brought to the hotel, or scanned into a phone or other wizardry that could be brought and produced to those controlling entry. Each guest was given a time slot that only lasted 30 minutes. Once the time was up you were ushered out and the next group allowed in. Six foot tables lined the outer edge of the large room, as seen above at behind each sat a couple of the Medal recipients with their aid at their side.
Each had a stack of autographed cards that they handed out to any requesting one. They allowed you to take pictures and even try to get in one with the recipient in many cases. Each also signed any two documents you brought along The instructions to all were clear. Some of the men have been shaking a lot of hands are were getting somewhat frail and that we ought to respect this and not try to get into an arm wrestle with them.
Before entry we were also told that there was little time and about 45 men in the room, so it was best to look for the fellow you really wanted to meet and get there quickly. The floor was yours to go in any direction you wished. If you saw no one on a line in front of a recipient then it was best that you rush over their right away etc... I managed to get to about 35 and even had a very quick conversation with each. Three in particular.
When I spoke with Captain Jay Vargas, a Marine Corps MOH recipient, I caught him off guard when I said that I had watched his video several times. He was stunned and did not know what I was taking about. I then reminded him of the unveiling of the Douglas Munro bust on the Coast Guard ship of the same name in Alaska about a year ago. Google it on You Tube.
Then he had the biggest smile when I was telling of how proud I was to see that three MOH men went to Alaska to do that unveiling and that Douglas was of course a Canadian, born at Vancouver BC. He was most happy to chat and I believe we may be in contact again.
When I stood in front of Corporal Rodolfo P Hernandez, a Korean war MOH recipient, I reminded him that we met and chatted while I was in California attending the funeral of Colonel Lewis Millet a few years back. He remembered the funeral and his aid, his daughter, also had some very kind words of the late Colonel.
And believe it or not, I actually got through the crowds waiting to chat with probably the youngest, and one of the most recent recipients, the very friendly and open minded and dedicated hero by the name of Sal Giunta. We spoke of the incredible responsibilities he now has to carry for the rest of his life and he reminded me that he has some very experienced fellow recipients that will help him to keep his feet out of the fires that will no doubt come his way in the years to come. We exchanged emails and will also hopefully keep in touch.
This was a great opportunity for each to talk about the events leading up to their being awarded the Medal of Honor and also to take questions from the public. Some where humorous but some were pretty darn serious. And the heroes also knew home to make us laugh, and then cry at hearing of the horrors each went through and how their buddies gave their all for their country and the fellow soldier on his left or right.
The image on the left has the crowd standing as they are about to march on the Colours. The centre has the four men sitting on the stage with First lt. Harvey Barnum at the left, then Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta, then Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha and finally anchor Chris Wallace. The last picture has Sal on the left, then Harvey and Clinton and yours truly.
These two events had the public meeting and talking face to face with these three heroes and will no doubt form lasting memories for years to come.
And speaking of memories... on another subject... regular followers of this blog will recall several stories about the Devil's brigade. Watch the news over the next few days as these veterans have been gathering for the past few days at Windsor Ontario for their annual convention.