America at Its Best: The Medal of Honor

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2013
All rights reserved
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

The destiny of our great country lies in the hands of our youth, the future leaders of America.  Barney Barnum, Medal of Honor recipient.

This week, our Face of America journey took me to the North Plainfield Senior High School in New Jersey on a beautiful September afternoon.
Collagestusm My destination was the Junior ROTC classroom.  I was invited to do an in-service with six students who had been chosen to participate in an extraordinary experiential learning opportunity about the Medal of Honor.

Unlike most classrooms at the end of the day on Friday, this one was a center of anticipation and carefully controlled excitement about the what, the why and the how of the project. Some of the students were dressed in their uniforms, others were wearing casual clothing.  No matter what the attire, everyone was interested and engaged in the work at hand.

Navy Medal 1862

For almost two hours, we talked about the Medal of Honor, its origins, its design, its meaning, its recipients, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and the significance of the convention that will celebrate this symbol of excellence.

The students were surprised to learn that only 3,462 medals have been awarded in 150 years. When I told them there were 1,522 recipients in the Civil War including 20 boys under 18, one student began to calculate the exclusiveness of the award.

They were amazed that 63 of these medals were earned during the battle of Gettysburg.

The diverse nature of the recipients produced smiles of approval when they heard these statistics:

87 African-American recipients;
41 Hispanic-American recipients;
33 Asian-American recipients;
32 Native-American recipients.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s Gettysburg story resonated withJc Qupte the students, and so did the stories of Barney Barnum and Jay Vargus, two Vietnam veterans who gave truth to the words used to describe the Medal of Honor:

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. It is presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress.

MoH Graphic

They liked the goals of the Medal of Honor Society:

1. Brotherhood & Comradeship for recipients;
2. Memory and Respect for the deeds and the medal;
3. Protect the dignity and honor of the Medal;
4. Provide assistance to recipients;
5. Promote Patriotism;
6. Promote service to US in peace and war;
7. Character education for young people.

The most memorable moment happened when I told the studentsJames_Anderson,_Jr the story of Medal of Honor recipient James Anderson, Jr. This excerpt from his Medal of Honor citation got the attention of everyone in the room:

Unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, he reached out, grasped the grenade, pulled it to his chest and curled around it as it went off.

James Anderson, Jr., was 20-years-young when he died. His story helped the students better understand the meaning of the words frequently used to describe Medal of Honor recipients: Courage, Duty, Excellence, Honor, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty, Responsibility, Respect, Resilience, Selfless Service and Valor.

The most poignant moment happened when I introduced the Emily-Perezstudents to 2d Lt Emily Perez and her story of courage, heroism and service. Emily was the highest ranking female Black/Hispanic honors graduate from West Point. She volunteered to go to Iraq. On the day she lost her life in a roadside bomb attack, her replacement arrived. She did not think the replacement was ready to lead the convoy so she volunteered do it one more time.

Emily Perez did not receive a Medal of Honor, but she is a shining example of everything America is on its best day. Her story had great meaning for everyone in the room.

To help the students better understand another dimension ofDavis Book values, I shared an overview of Not Your Average Joe, Profiles of Militay Core Values and Why They Matter in The Private Sector. This book was written by Dennis T. Davis in an attempt to document the many values veterans bring to the workplace.

Davis is a military man himself, and he is on a mission to convince employers to adopt a program of values-based employment in addition to skills-based employment criteria for hiring new employees.
Not Your Average Joe helps young people to understand the practical consequences of living a life rooted in loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

On September 18, six students from North Plainfield, New Jersey, will arrive in Gettysburg for what will be one of the JV Quptemost memorable experiences of their lifetime. By their own admission, they are excited about this opportunity. They want to make the most of their journey.  They hope to learn things that will empower them to honor the legacy of the heroes they meet with deeds not words.

Three recipients set the tone for this adventure when they wrote these words:

Believe in yourself, set reasonable goals, and love God and your parents. If you fail, get up and never give up. JayBB Qupte Vargas

The power of noble deeds is to be preserved and passed on to the future.
Joshua Chamberlain

I believe in public service…so I recommend it to youngsters…It’s not about you… it’s about us. There’s no I in the word team. Barney Barnum

FoA Sept 13 _4

One of the students, Kyle Pacla used these words to explain the goal he set for himself and everyone on our team:

What I hope to learn from this experience is how to become a better person…how to figure out what it is in my character that
I need to change in order to help not only myself but also others for the betterment of them and myself.

For an old teacher in a new classroom, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Kitch and I are grateful to the members of the North Plainfield Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum, LtCol Eric Hansen, Senior Naval Science Instructor for the North Plainfield High School Navy Junior ROTC program and Director of Arts, Tom Mazur for their belief in our work and their support of this project. We will do everything we can to make this a memorable and productive experience for the students.

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