By American Forces Press ServiceJuly 20, 2009
WASHINGTON, July 17, 2009 - At least 59 of the 96 living Medal of Honor recipients are expected to attend the upcoming annual convention of the society named for them.
The host committee of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society's convention, scheduled for Sept. 15 to 19 in Chicago, announced the number in a statement released on the convention Web site, http://cmoh2009chicago.org, noting the unlikelihood of assembling that many recipients of the military's highest honor at once.
Of the 42 million men and women who have served in the military since the award began during the Civil War, only 3,447 have been presented the Medal of Honor, many of them posthumously.
"Statistically, only about 1 percent of America's population will ever be in the same room with one Medal of Honor recipient," the committee wrote. "A much smaller fraction of that will ever have the opportunity to actually meet a recipient.
"Recipients will tell you that while they understand courage, they felt intense fear ... and it is the ability to overcome fear in any situation that leads one to strength and understanding ... with strength and understanding, comes courage. With courage, comes sacrifice," the committee wrote.
To each of the recipients, what they did was very logical, the committee wrote. "The human quality they have an over abundance of is courage."
Under the convention theme, "Commit to Courage," the society profiles the following recipients as examples of courage in combat:
-- Mike Thornton, a Navy Seal in Vietnam who, upon learning that his commander, Tom Norris, was presumed dead from an enemy ambush, ran into intense enemy fire to rescue Norris, then swam two and a half hours with him and another comrade on his back to safety. When Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor, he spirited Norris out of the hospital where he was recovering to the White House ceremony so they could be together. Several years later, when Norris himself was awarded the Medal of Honor -- for a covert action known now as "The Rescue of Bat 21" - Thornton was by his side. On that day, Thornton became the first recipient in more than 100 years to have saved the life of another recipient.
-- Walter Ehlers spent much of World War II training and fighting side by side with his brother, Roland. Ehlers brought his company out of a Higgins boat 100 yards off shore and landed just before the second wave in a hail of fire on D-Day at Normandy, France. He got all his men safely across the beach and, the following day, moved miles in country. Among the hedgerows there, Ehlers distinguished himself in saving the lives of wounded comrades who came upon intense machine gun fire. He would learn several weeks later that, farther down the beach in Normandy, his brother never made it to shore on D-Day.
-- Gary Littrell, on a hill in Vietnam, began defending against a vicious enemy offensive with 247 men and came off the hill with fewer than 50. One witness statement said simply "Littrell was everywhere" exposing himself to intense fire during the hours-long battle, directing troops, providing radio support, ammunition, evacuation of wounded. In the end, Littrell was never wounded -- in his words, "not a scratch."
In its statement, the committee said it chose this year's theme as "a rallying call to the citizens of Chicago, our students and all members of our armed forces who serve our country past and present to take the initiative, respond to the challenge, and act responsibly - indeed, courageously -- when the opportunity presents itself in our daily lives."
(From a message from the host committee for the 2009 Chicago Commit to Courage Medal of Honor Convention.)