Posts Tagged ‘Medal of Honor Convention 2013’

Medal of Honor: The Greatest Gift

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The Medal of Honor: The Greatest Gift
Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD, 2013
All Rights Reserved

The greatest gift that you can give to anybody is the gift of your honest self. It’s the only unique gift anyone can give.Fred Rogers

Gettysburg College opened its doors to students in 1832. During its long history it has been known for itsIMG_9635_sm emphasis on the liberal arts and innovative teaching. For more than180 years that tradition has been maintained.  The college is ranked nationally as a center of excellence.

It comes as no surprise that Susan Eisenhower challenged the members of the freshman class to help make our country a better place.  During the 2013 graduation exercise, the president of the senior class told everyone in attendance that Gettysburg College is a place where people matter. Graduation speaker David Gergen encouraged the graduates to answer the call to service and President Dr. Janet Morgan Riggs made it clear that the goal of the college is to prepare students for lives of impact.

The historic significance of the school, its lofty goals and the commitment to service made it an ideal place to host the 2013 Congressional Medal of Honor Town Hall Forum.

Standing with the cadets from North Plainfield in front of the College Union Building, I could feel their anticipation and excitement. People of all ages were lining up to enter the College Union Building on West IMG_Group_smLincoln Avenue. The mood was festive. We were greeted by pleasant people who acknowledged the privileges that came with the media badges we were wearing. Our group of 11 people was given easy access to the venue. When we entered, guests were helping themselves to coffee, fruit and pastries while they waited for the event to begin.

In the back of the room, videographers and photographers were setting up their cameras and tripods,IMG_9724_sm and testing their connections to the sound system to guarantee the best possible recording of the event.

Then it happened. Chris Wallace of Fox News and three recipients, Barney Barnum, Salvatore Guinta and Clinton Romesha, entered the College Union Ballroom. They were greeted with the familiar sounds of cameras clicking and reverent “oohs” and “ahs” from the audience.

The Presentation of the Colors by the Blue Mountain ROTC, an inspiring a cappella rendition of the national anthem, a warm welcome by Dr. Janet Riggs, the 14th president of Gettysburg College, and a touching tribute to Stephen Doane a Medal of Honor recipient who attended Gettysburg College before he joined the army in 1967 set the tone for the Town Hall Forum.

Polite applause filled the room, when Wallace, IMG_9706_smBarnum, Giunta and Romesha settled into the comfortable, blue easy chairs on the stage. Wallace guided the discussion which focused primarily on the heroism displayed by the Medal of Honor recipients.

Barnum has been wearing the medal for 48 years. Giunta received his medal in 2010. Romesha described himself as the new kid on the street having received the medal only seven months ago.

After they briefly described the actions they took to save their brothers, they downplayed the accolades they received, and they emphasized they did the job they were trained to do.

Two of Wallace’s questions produced a poignant moment. When he asked Sal Giunta why he did what he did and and what was going through his mind when he did it, Giunta paused for what seemed like an eternity, then hesal_smb surprised everyone in the room with these words:

I did what I did because everyone else was doing the same thing. There’s no room or time to think about you, because you don’t matter. We matter, and it has nothing to do with you as an individual. I never once led. I always stood side by side to my brothers. My first thought was to my boys…

Barnum explained it this way:

I hope that I was an example…that I led. The only thing I feared was making the wrong decision. It was all about the marine on your right and your left. That’s what drives you in battle.

In Romesha’s case it was 52 American soldiers against 300 Taliban fighters at Outpost Keating on October 3, 2009. The Americans were a team determined to do their job and unwilling to leave any of their comrades behind.

After the formal part of the forum ended, the IMG_9751_smaudience had an opportunity to ask question. About 15 people approached the microphones and waited for the opportunity of a lifetime. The questions asked were diverse and thought-provoking. They covered a range of issues including hope, fear, technology, the definition of courage, to what life lesson do you want to share with young people?

I was taken by Barney Barnum’s observations about his most inspirational moment and the change he would make in schools across the country.

We’ve got to get back to teaching history…what people who’ve gone before us…what they have done and learn from what they have done and be thankful for what they have done. It boils down to priorities…I, I, I, Me, Me, Me and maybe they ought to look at their country as a whole rather than about themselves.

What was Barnum’s most inspirational moment? Graduation day at Paris Island knowing that as a battalion commander he transformed “unorganized, fat, unmotivated, undisciplined civilians into low-crawling, hard-charging U.S. Marines…to see them on graduation day and to see the expressions on their parents’ face…absolutely phenomenal.

When a child asked Clinton Romasha how he stayed so brave. He replied: “You rely on your training…Its scary, but that’s what courage is being scared stiff.”

Sal Giunta put everything in perspective when heIMG_9770_sm responded to Cadet Kyle Pacla’s question:

What is one life lesson you would like to pass on to the younger generation? His answer”

“It’s never over until you quit trying…sometimes an opportunity is designed as hard work. Don’t be afraid of hard work…every day is a gift. It’s not a right. Take advantage of it.

On September 20, 2013, three Medal of Honor Recipients gave almost 300 people who attended the Town Hall Forum the gift of their honest selves. In doing that, they did something Carl Jung said most people refuse to do.  They made us face our own souls.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

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A Medal of Honor Experience at the Eisenhower Farm

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Written by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD 2013
All Rights Reserved

It was a glorious September afternoon when the buses pulled up to the luncheon tent at the historic Eisenhower Farm inEF_8295 Gettysburg. This is the place Ike and Mamie called home. It was their refuge from the pressures of public life, and it was the place where President Eisenhower hosted several important meetings including his much publicized September 1959 visit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

The Medal of Honor recipients and their families stepped off smartly and headed into the pavilion where tables were beautifully decorated to fit the occasion. On their way, the recipients stopped to return the salutes they received from a voluntary honor guard of six Navy Junior ROTC cadets from North Plainfield High School in New Jersey.


Waiting to welcome the recipients was a group of Wounded Warriors from Virginia. Wearing bright red shirts, they huddled together in back of the tent. They gave testimony to the scars of war and their determination to rebuild their lives. There was a quiet dignity about these young veterans. For me, watching them interact with heroes from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan was one of the most compelling moments of day.  

In many ways, the atmosphere of the luncheon was just like a family reunion. People chatted with one another. There were lots of handshakes and warm hugs. The sound of laughter rippled through the crowd. Wherever you looked, people were engaged in conversation.

In the background, everyone could hear the uplifting musicww_8394 provided by the Army Jazz Quartet. Dressed in attractive blue uniforms, the quartet was strategically located on the stage just to the right of a huge background of five stars symbolic of one of General Dwight David Eisenhower’s many accomplishments.

After the reception, everyone made their way to an assigned table. The wounded warriors from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts sat at various table so they could share the experience with the recipients.

The bucolic setting was a fitting place for this luncheon. It reflected a peacefulness and serenity on this late summer day. Nevertheless, everyone was aware that this was a commemoration not a celebration.


During the event, I wondered what was going on in the heart and mind of Frank Curry. He earned the Medal of Honor in 1945 when General Eisenhower was his commander. My father fought in that war and a part of him never came home.

I asked myself the same question when I saw Rodolfo Hernandez. He received the Medal of Honor 1952 for his bravery in Korea. At that time, candidate Eisenhower was running for President of the United States.

When my eyes caught the magical scene of Medal of HonorSG_8486 recipient Sal Jiunta talking with the six cadets from North Plainfield, I thought to myself what an irony. This young man is the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. When I was their age, the furthest thing from my mind was meeting or having a conversation with a Medal of Honor recipient!  What an opportunity. What a moment.

While the students were listening to Sal Jiunta and answering his questions, Tony and one of his most accomplished former students, Patrick Romano, worked in sync to capture this dandPA_8448priceless, unscripted moment on video.  It was a perfect illustration of teamwork. Two men who have known one another for 30 years were doing what needed to be done without regard for inconvenience or self to guarantee the success of the documentary.

As this scene played out, I was watching the closing of the circle. The demanding teacher and one of his most successful students were together again. This time all of the challenges and lofty expectations of the teacher had been fulfilled and surpassed by the loyal student who is now the consummate professional.    

The luncheon meal followed the rustic theme and soonIGDsm_8575 afterward, the guests settled in for an informal discussion featuring Susan Eisenhower who vividly recalled her childhood visits to her grandfather’s farm. In a compelling and dignified way she shared poignant and humorous stories filled with interesting tidbits about the man affectionately known as “Ike.”

As the guests made their way to the buses to return to the CS_8645Wyndham hotel for an autograph session, smiles of gratitude filled their faces. By every measure it was an informative, relaxing and successful event for the honored guests, their families and friends.

For the students from North Plainfield it was an extraordinary learning opportunity that they will never forget.

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