By Office of the Chief of Public Affairs-MidwestOctober 8, 2009
Story and photos by Sgt. Kassidy Snyder, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
Each year the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention is held in a different location. This year, Chicago had the privilege of honoring the country's most dedicated veterans Sept. 14 to 19 during the 2009 convention. Out of the 95 living Medal of Honor recipients, 57 of them attended the convention. The Medal of Honor is the highest military award.
There are six surviving National Guard Medal of Honor recipients. The National Guard recipients who attended this year's convention were Sammy Davis, Allen Lynch and Alfred Rascon. The three unable to make it were Nicky Bacon, George Day and Frederick Ferguson. All six men received the Medal of Honor for valor in combat during the Vietnam War. "To have you here in the land of Lincoln is very special indeed, we thank you for your service to our country," said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to the Medal of Honor recipients during the opening ceremony.
Twelve Illinois National Guard service members were selected as military escorts for the Medal of Honor recipients. Four Illinois Air National Guard members and eight Illinois Army National Guard members accompanied the recipients to all the events that took place throughout the week.
The opening ceremony at Soldier Field marked the beginning of the convention. The Illinois National Guard, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery based in Milan presented honors with a three howitzer 21-gun-salute. After the ceremony, the Medal of Honor recipients gathered inside the gates of Soldier Field for a face-to-face autograph session with service members and civilians.
The following day included outreach events where the Medal of Honor recipients participated in speaking engagements throughout the city. Recipient, Jay R. Vargas of San Diego, Calif., visited the Illinois National Guard 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in Chicago. He spoke to service members and offered some words of wisdom. "Regardless of how important you think you are, the troops come first," said Vargas.
On Sept. 17 the recipients were honored at Wrigley Field prior to the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. Recipients gave a traditional military coin to each major league player. After the Star Spangled Banner, the Illinois National Guard's 106th Aviation Company based in Chicago provided a flyover with three UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. After being recognized on the field, the recipients enjoyed the game from the Batter's Eye Clubhouse in the outfield. Each recipient received a commemorative jersey with their last name on the back and the year they were awarded their medal.
A memorial service was held on Friday at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in remembrance of the Medal of Honor recipients who passed since last year's convention. The Illinois National Guard's 933rd Military Police Company in Waukegan performed taps and a 21-gun-salute to conclude the ceremony.
The week-long convention ended with a patriot award dinner at Chicago's Swissotel. This year's convention marked the largest gathering ever of Medal of Honor recipients at one location. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention flag was passed onto the new committee, which will be hosting the 2010 Convention in Charleston, S.C.
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