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For Medal Of Honor Recipients, It's About What They Do – Not What They Did

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society‘s annual convention is in Boston this year. Pictured, the Medal of Honor awarded to Gary Wetzel, a soldier from Wisconsin who was honored for his actions in the Vietnam War. (John Bazemore/AP)
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society‘s annual convention is in Boston this year. Pictured, the Medal of Honor awarded to Gary Wetzel, a soldier from Wisconsin who was honored for his actions in the Vietnam War. (John Bazemore/AP)

Humble. That’s maybe the best way to describe Medal of Honor recipients. And that trait is on display in spades in Boston this week, as most of the 78 living members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society gather for their annual convention.

“I’m not some big war hero,” Gary Wetzel said to a group of high school students this week. “Somehow I got singled out but there are a lot of unsung heroes.”

Wetzel, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had his left arm blown off when his helicopter was shot down in Vietnam, but he kept fighting after the chopper hit the ground. When a student asked him what it felt like to risk his life for the other men on that day in jungle he told them he was just doing his job.

Thomas Kelley, another Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War told those students they don’t have to be heroes to serve in some way. Standing up to a bully at school, he said, is a display of courage like any on the battlefield.

There are Medal of Honors recipients from World War II and the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan in Boston this week. None of the recipients who were honored for bravery during the Iraq War survived the action for which they received the medal. They were all honored posthumously.

Three of the 12 men who received the medal for bravery in Afghanistan also received it posthumously. Clint Romesha survived his wounds during the Battle of Kamdesh in 2009 when he, like many of these other men, rallied his soldiers even though he had already been hit. He received his Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in 2013.

“I just did a job,” he told me. “I didn’t do anything more or less than the guys to my left or right. And it wasn’t because I hated those men who were attacking us. I did it because I loved my brothers to the left and right.”

When Gary Wetzel was in the hospital recovering from his wounds after losing his arm, he told the high school students he was with yesterday a story that reflected what Clint Romesha said. Wetzel remembered how men from his Army unit kept coming to see him, showing him photos of their girlfriends, wives and kids.

His fellow soldiers thanked Gary for keeping them alive and giving them at least a chance to see their loved ones again.

Reporter

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