Mullen Welcomes Medal of Honor Heroes to Pentagon
(March 28, 2011)
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses audience members during a ceremony
in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes honoring the 150th anniversary of
the Medal of Honor, March 25, 2011. DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer
1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
||WASHINGTON, March 25, 2011 – Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
joined service leaders today in honoring those he called America's
“bravest of the brave” in a Pentagon ceremony marking the 150th
anniversary of the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military
Thirty of the 85 living recipients of the Medal of
Honor, along with their families, joined the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff and senior service leaders in the Pentagon's Hall of
Heroes, where their names are engraved on wall hangings among the
3,454 recipients. Today's military leaders thanked the veterans for
their service -- most rendered decades ago -- while an Army band
played military marches, “America the Beautiful” and other patriotic
songs before the ceremony.
“For those of us who serve, and
have had the opportunity to meet many of you, we marvel at
your service, marvel at your dedication, and marvel at your caring,”
said Mullen, who stood nearby U.S. and service-branch flags and
oversized replicas of the Navy, Army and Air Force versions of the
The Medal of Honor recipients serve as mentors to the nation's service
members and are a bridge between the military and civilian communities,
Mullen said. “Your help in connecting us to the American people is a
very important endeavor,” he said.|
Mullen called the
characteristics that embody the medal recipients –- honor, sacrifice,
and service –- “iconic and quintessentially American.” President Abraham
Lincoln sought and received an act of Congress to create the Medal of
Honor during the Civil War, Mullen said, noting the medal came from “one
of the darkest chapters in American history, and from the man credited
with saving” the United States.
is “bestowed on the bravest of the brave for the most selfless and noble
acts ever witnessed on the battlefield,” Mullen said. It is the most
democratic of awards, he added, having no regard for rank, race or class
of recipients. More than half of its recipients did not survive the
battle for which it was earned, he said.
“These heroes –- and I
do not use that word lightly -– have demonstrated how just one American
can not only make a difference, but can often make history,” Mullen
“We give thanks that here, today, we live in a country
where brave young Americans are still willing to give their all in
defense of our nation,” the chairman said. He noted that the 10 years
that today's military has been at war is the longest period of war in
Leo K. Thorsness, a retired Air Force colonel
and president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society received the
coveted medal for his actions in Vietnam. The 85 living recipients of
the medal range in age from 26 to 90, he said, and they have the “common
thread of passionate love of country.”
“We wear this for those
who can't,” Thorsness said, referring to the medals hanging by a light
blue sash around the necks of the recipients. “Many more are deserving
and didn't receive it, either because they slipped through the cracks or
there were no eyewitnesses” to their valor, he said.
ceremony marked a personal anniversary for one medal recipient. March 31
will mark 40 years since Brian M. Thacker of Wheaton, Md., was pinned
down on a mountain ridge in Vietnam's Kontum province, where he made a
strategic decision to try to fend off his North Vietnamese attackers
alone rather than risk the lives of all the men in his unit.
Thacker was a 25-year-old Army first lieutenant who had extended his
time in college ROTC in the hopes of avoiding the draft, he recalled
today. But while fulfilling his military commitment in September 1970,
he was sent to Vietnam, where “from the American point of view, we were
turning the war over” to the South Vietnamese.
On March 31, 1971,
Thacker was the team leader of an artillery battery on a mountaintop
observation fire base collocated with South Vietnamese units when they
were overrun by a much larger contingent of North Vietnamese soldiers.
The enemy used rockets, grenades, flamethrowers and automatic weapons,
while Thacker's group had just one machine gun. Three of his five men
were killed in the first 15 minutes.
Thacker said he had known
for some time he didn't want to make a career of the military, but that
did not hold him back in service or combat. “If I got any criticism, it
was that I couldn't be reined in,” he said.
It was with that
focus and determination that Thacker encouraged his troops through hours
of close combat while he directed airstrikes from an exposed position.
By late afternoon, Thacker determined his unit would have to withdraw.
He stayed behind -- alone, and with only an M-16 rifle -- to direct
airstrikes on his own position to suppress the enemy while his unit
climbed the steep terrain to a level where helicopters could reach them.
Wounded and unable to catch up to his men, Thacker made his way down
the mountain and hid in thick vegetation, eluding the enemy for eight
days until he was rescued.
Even after 40 years, Thacker said, he
still thinks daily about the men who served with him –- and died –- on
“I get to wake up to a new sunrise every day
because of their sacrifices,” he said.
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
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