ANC hosts National Medal of Honor Day ceremony
Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry (left), Medal of Honor recipient, and Harold Fritz (right) place the Citizen Service Before Self Honors around the neck of Father Joe Carroll, one of the four recipients, during a ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial March 25. (Photo by Rachel Larue)

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. - Presented with the nation's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, a group of past recipients joined civilian hometown heroes being honored at Arlington National Cemetery March 25 for the National Medal of Honor Day ceremony.

Organized by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, a group consisting of only MOH recipients, this year's event paid tribute to four individuals selected for the 2013 Citizen Service Before Self Honors for acts of bravery.

A wreath ceremony was held at the Tomb of the Unknowns before the award ceremony at the Women in Service to America Memorial. Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, commander of Joint Force Headquarters-National Capitol Region and the Military District of Washington, and MOH recipients Thomas Kelley, Brian Thacker and Jay Vargas rendered honors as part of the recognition ceremony.

Keynote speaker for the event, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of the bravery, patriotism and tenacity of the servicemembers who have been awarded the prestigious medal.

"Now in its 150th year, the Medal of Honor continues to represent those national ideals more than ever. Presented, of course, by our commander in chief on behalf of Congress, it is our citizen's acknowledgement of the traits we hold sacred and our nation's most profound expression of gratitude," he said.

"The Citizen Service Before Self Honors seeks out those that demonstrate extraordinary acts of bravery to save a life or lives, and those who have given extraordinary service to others through an extended period of time. This program perpetuates the ideals of a nation and of the Medal of Honor, and most importantly recognizes that the cloth of our nation is woven in its communities," Battaglia said.

The civilians honored at the event included Father Joe Carroll of San Diego, Calif., Marcos Ugarte of Troutdale, Ore., Jesse Shaffer III and Jesse Shaffer IV, of Braithwaite, La. They were all honored with the 2013 Citizen Service Before Self Honors.

Carroll opened and ran a homeless support center, offering assistance, counseling and job training. Fifteen-year-old Ugarte saved a younger neighbor from a burning home and the Shaffer father-and-son team used their boat to rescue 120 people from their flooded town during Hurricane Issac after official rescue efforts were called off.

The four honorees were chosen by Medal of Honor recipients from a pool of 23 finalists from hundreds of hero nominations across the U.S. between September and December 2012.

"We're very happy to be accepting this award on behalf of all the men down in Braithwaite [Louisiana] that were out there on that [rescue] day with us," said Jesse Shaffer IV. He described the time spent with the Medal of Honor recipients as "incredible."

Shaffer's father agreed with his son. "They are a humble group of individuals, and it's been a good experience spending time with them," said Jesse Shaffer III.

"I believe what this [ceremony] shows is that there are ordinary citizens that do valorous deeds or dedicated deeds of service and not necessarily wear the military uniform of the armed services," said Harold Fritz, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in the Army's 11th Armored Calvary Regiment during Vietnam.

"In this country we still have the ability to change fate, to embrace a situation and take charge, whether it is a situation like the young man who went into a burning building or the father and son who saved 120 people in a flood, or the priest that ran a transitional home for 30 years for homeless veterans. Those are all acts of helping fellow man, helping save lives. That's what we do to make this a strong country."

Of the 80 Medal of Honor recipients alive today, 21 attended the ceremony.

The Medal of Honor commemorated its 150th anniversary this year. On March 25, 1863, Pvt. Jacob Parrott was the first of a group of six men awarded the medal for their actions in "The Great Locomotive Chase" of April 1862 during the Civil War.

Page last updated Fri March 29th, 2013 at 09:37