The afternoon session of the 13th Annual Veterans Conference began, standing room only. This was a very special group. The presentation began with a 10 minute film, which was solely made up of the words of many Medal of Honor recipients – words from the bravest of the brave:
- War is a terrible thing.
- If anyone of us hadn’t done their job, none of us would be alive.
- I was wounded and I didn’t want to play anymore, but then I picked myself up and kept moving.
- I went to war and found out what real love is.
- It’s easy to win, harder to wear.
- This medal represents love.
- Freedom is the reason.
Then the lights came back up. Four recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor sat in chairs in front of the screen. With quiet dignity, humor and an occasional catch in the throat, these men who earned the ultimate honor bestowed by this country, talked to us.
SFC Ronald Rosser, Captain Thomas J. Hudner Jr., Col. Harvey C. “Barney” Barnum, Col. Jack Jacobs – being in the company of these men was, as I heard one young High School attendee say, “totally awesome”.
Lt. General Nick Kehoe, the President of the CMoH Foundation asked the panel the first question: What went through your minds that day, the day you did what you did to earn the Medal of Honor. Were you scared?
Colonel Jacobs replied, yes, he was scared. If anyone says they aren’t scared in combat, they are a lying dog, or psycho or a lying psycho! SFC Rosser said he really didn’t have time to think or time to be scared. He was kinda busy, just trying to keep alive. Col. Barnum told us that courage is how you confront fear, but what you do with it is the most important thing. Capt. Hudner mused that he had been faced with a decision, he had to act and keep the objective to keep his downed comrade alive clear in his mind.
The second question surprised some of us - what was the best thing that happened that day. Col. Barnum, when he heard his Sgt say, at the end of the action, “all accounted for”. SFC Rosser said knowing he got the guys he could out of danger, that was the greatest thing.
For Col. Jacobs, after he was wounded and his Sgt. radioed in that Jacobs was wounded, then fell wounded himself, Jacobs radioed in that his Sgt. was wounded. The Colonel on the other end of the phone, in exasperation said, “quit fooling around, and get your job done”. That was Jacobs’ epiphany that day, that if someone didn’t do something, everyone would die. In a classic statement for these very humble men, Capt. Hudner said “anyone would have done the same thing.”
One of the audience asked about “easy to earn, difficult to wear”. They all said, I wear this for those who can’t, for those who died, for those whose bravery wasn’t documented. I wear it for the heroes. Col. Jacobs called it a “pleasant burden”, you represent everyone who cannot wear it. Col. Barnum told us that he wears it for the Marines he lead, for the corpsmen who died saving others and SFC Rosser choked up when he remembered the men of Love Company, the ones who gave their lives for his. All of them nodded when Capt. Hudner said it is also a great responsibility, everytime you do something you have to remember the reputation of the medal, you need to make sure you do not do anything to dishonor it.
When asked about their thoughts on the day they had the Medal presented, SFC Rosser made us all chuckle when he said he was more scared that day than on the battlefield in Korea! Capt Hudner was impressed by President Truman’s demeanor, since this was the first appearance in front of the media after firing MacArthur. The President did a great deal to put them all at ease, made it special for everyone there. He remembers his great pride in his country and in his Navy.
Col. Barnum’s most vivid memory from the day when the Secretary of the Navy presented it to him, was his parents’ pride. He felt that he had given something back to them because “they brought me up right.”
A young lady asked , “was there ever a day you thought I’m not going to make it.” The instant answer, delivered in a Marine voice from Col. Barnum - NO - rang through the theater. SFC Rosser made us all laugh when he said “I just considered them varmints, I wasn’t really afraid of them as individuals”.
A local teacher stood and thanked them all for their humility, their sense of honor, the call to a higher standard that was given to his students that day. We all joined in his applause for these brave men, who set an example to all of us.