Story and photos by Sgt. Kassidy Snyder, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office

The Chicago Police and Fire Department line the jet way to the airplane that is bringing Medal of Honor recipient, Bernard "Bernie" Fisher of Kuna, Idaho, into Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Master Sgt. Matthew Allen, a recruiter with the 183rd Fighter Wing in Springfield, anxiously stands at the terminal door awaiting the arrival of his recipient. The door opens and the flight attendant announces there is a Medal of Honor recipient on board. A standing ovation starts on the airplane and continues onto the runway and into the terminal. Crowds gather throughout the terminal to recognize Fisher for his service to the country.

Allen was one of four Illinois Air National Guard members selected to be a military escort for the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention, which was held Sept. 14-19 in Chicago. Additionally, eight Illinois Army National Guard members were Medal of Honor recipient escorts. Allen's job included being a personal aide to Fisher for the duration of his trip. "I was honored to represent the entire Air Force and have the great opportunity of meeting real American heroes," said Allen.

Multiple events occurred throughout the week including an opening ceremony at Soldier Field with autograph signing session, recognition before a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and an awards dinner at Chicago's Swissotel. Allen had the honor of escorting Fisher to all of these events. "I made sure that I was always there when he needed me," said Allen. Fisher became the first living Air Force Medal of Honor recipient when he was presented the medal on Jan. 1, 1967 at a White House ceremony by then President Lyndon B. Johnson.

During the Vietnam War, Fisher observed a fellow Airman crash land on the battle-torn airstrip. In the belief that the downed pilot was seriously injured and in imminent danger of capture, Fisher landed his aircraft and taxied almost the full length of the runway, which was littered with battle debris and parts of an exploded aircraft. While affecting a successful rescue of the downed pilot, heavy ground fire was observed, with 19 bullets striking Fisher's aircraft.

Fisher asked Allen if he would like to hear about the day in Vietnam that earned him the Medal of Honor. Allen accepted without hesitation and listened attentively to the story in Fisher's own words. "He starts to tear up when he tells the story," said Allen. "Bernie says that the real heroes are the ones that didn't come home."

Allen never had the opportunity of meeting his grandfather and felt a comparable connection with Fisher. Fisher told of past military stories and how he loved to trout fish. "Being relatively young, these are the men I learned about in history class and now I am having dinner with them and sharing in great conversation," commented Allen. "I have to pinch myself to bring me back to reality."

Of the estimated 42 million Americans who have served this country in uniform, only 3,447 individuals have received the Medal of Honor, most of them awarded posthumously. Today there are 95 living recipients and over 50 of them gathered for the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention in Chicago.

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Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16