As both a military “brat” and career military officer, I have honored this day in many ways over the years, but this year’s circumstances seem to dictate a day of simple reflection. Why do we have Memorial Day, and why did these men and women give their lives to protect our United States? In answering these questions, my thoughts wandered toward some of our most extraordinary military members, those who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor (CMOH).
There are around 3,500 recipients of the CMOH. It is the highest honor given, and usually for an act so selfless and dangerous that it is awarded posthumously. Thankfully, though, it’s not always the case, as the 69 living recipients can attest to. Many of the recipients since the CMOH’s inception after the Civil War were awarded it retroactively, sometimes decades later. Nineteen men actually earned the CMOH twice. One woman has been so honored, and more than 800 recipients were not even citizens of the United States while they defended our country with their lives.
The citations that describe these acts of heroism are humbling and inspiring. One example is that of Master Sergeant Keeble, a native Sioux, who “dashed forward and joined a pinned-down platoon” during fighting in Korea, 1951. Slightly edited it reads, “Hugging the ground, Master Sergeant Keeble crawled forward alone until he was in close proximity to one of the hostile machine-gun emplacements. Ignoring the heavy fire trained on him, he activated a grenade and threw it with great accuracy, successfully destroying the position. Continuing his one-man assault, he moved to the second enemy position and destroyed it with another grenade. Despite that the enemy troops were now directing their firepower against him and unleashing a shower of grenades in a frantic attempt to stop his advance, he moved forward against the third hostile emplacement, and skillfully neutralized the remaining enemy position. Inspired by his courage, Company G successfully moved forward and seized its important objective.” Master Sergeant Keeble died in 1985.
These stories, collected by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society , are just a tiny percentage that stand to remind us of the countless thousands who laid down their lives to protect ours, trusting that we, in living ours, would live those ideals of selflessness and service to keep our country strong.
Today, of all days, we should be grateful of, and humbled by, the sacrifices of those who gave all for their country so that we could live free. In honoring them, “May we”, in the words of Scottish Clergyman Peter Marshall, “think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” We owe that not only to our slain heroes, but also to future generations--"our posterity.”
Hollace Lyon, Chair