Veterans Celebrate 150 Years Of The Medal Of Honor

More than 50 of America's most decorated war heroes are in Louisville, Kentucky, this weekend to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Medal of Honor. Three men have received the honor in the last year — the first time the Congressional Medal of Honor Society has welcomed new living members since Vietnam. Reporter Brenna Angel of member station WUKY, reports on how they shared their stories across generations.

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This country's most decorated war heroes are in Louisville, Kentucky this weekend celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Medal of Honor. Three men have received the medal in the past year, the first time the Congressional Medal of Honor Society has welcomed new living members since Vietnam.

As Brenna Angel from member station WUKY reports, it was a chance to share their stories across generations.

WESLEY FOX: (Unintelligible).

BRENNA ANGEL: When retired Marine Colonel Wesley Fox walked into Louisville's Seneca High School Thursday, he was greeted by dozens of junior ROTC cadets standing at attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANGEL: He was escorted to the gymnasium where the band and orchestra played the national anthem and the school watched a video about Fox's actions during the Vietnam War on February 22nd, 1969.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO PRESENTATION)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: With the platoon now leaderless, Fox stepped in, reorganizing the company and directing their (unintelligible). Together, they hurled grenades...

JANELLE DRAYTON: Like, to be where he was and for him to be here and able to talk to us is pretty amazing. Like, I could honestly, like, not believe that this is happening right now because it's pretty awesome.

ANGEL: Seventeen-year-old Janelle Drayton(ph) was one of the students who got to meet and have a picture taken with Colonel Fox.

FOX: And it's not like waving a flag like look what a got. I think it's more in recognition of what our countrymen have done for our country and maybe giving the young people an awareness of the price of freedom that some of our countrymen have paid.

ANGEL: Congress approved Fox's medal in 1970, but he waited more than a year to shake hands with President Nixon who waited until there were six other veterans also receiving the award.

FOX: Somewhere back about the seventh page in the Washington Post they covered those seven awards, not front page individuals. So that was a big difference in then and today.

ANGEL: For Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer, who received his medal for actions in Afghanistan, the medal presentation at the White House a few weeks ago was a much-heralded event. He even appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAKOTA MEYER: So I'm sitting at this gas station waiting, you know, in this - I'm in this gas station, I'm all dirty, I've been greasing the Bobcat and...

DAVID LETTERMAN: Wait a minute. Is that a?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANGEL: Since receiving the Medal of Honor, Meyer and the two other recent recipients, Army Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta and Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry, have been inundated with requests for interviews and appearances. Although reluctant, they are requests that Meyer has a hard time turning down.

MEYER: I feel like that one person that I tell no, how do I know that that could be the person that I could impact their life somewhere down the future and change something about them?

ANGEL: Vietnam vet and retired Army Command Sergeant Major Gary Littrell received his medal in 1973. He says the medal is both an honor and a responsibility.

GARY LITTRELL: I understood later it is hard to wear because the demands are on you. And if you don't filter through some of those and learn how to say no, you'll burn yourself out. You'll live from hotel room to hotel room, suitcase to suitcase. So you have to have a life after the medal.

ANGEL: In addition to the public events, the Medal of Honor Convention is about camaraderie for the recipients. Littrell says they share stories about their families and their hobbies, but what they don't focus on is their time on the battlefield. For NPR News, Brenna Angel, Louisville, Kentucky.

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