Friday, December 13, 2013
Valley Forge, Pa., is no stranger to heroes. The area is steeped in tales of valor and sacrifice. Look for more this weekend.
The occasion is the updating of the Medal of Honor Grove, the Freedoms Foundation's 52-acre memorial park about a mile west of the Valley Forge National Historical Park. The site pays tribute to the 3,457 men and one woman who have, according to the 1862 act that President Abraham Lincoln signed creating the medal, distinguished "themselves by their gallantry in action."
Within each acre of the park -- one per state, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico -- is an obelisk bearing the names of medal recipients from that state. In the past, as the list of recipients grew, names were added. Unfortunately, as the foundation ran into trouble maintaining the grove, it also fell behind on the honor roll.
The last two medal recipients enshrined there were two soldiers who died defending the crew of a downed helicopter in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Since then, more than three dozen additional medals have been awarded.
Sunday, in ceremonies starting at noon, the names of 35 of these heroes will be officially added to the grove. There are privates and senior NCOs, petty officers and majors. They are Marines, soldiers, airmen, and sailors. They served in Korea (five), Vietnam (20), Afghanistan (six), and Iraq (four). They hail from 18 states.
Among those paying tribute to these men will be six of their fellow medal recipients, Marine Maj. Gen. James Livingston; Cols. Bud Day, Hal Fritz, and Joe Marm, all from the Army; Air Force Col. Leo Thorsness; and Francis Currey. All but Currey, an Army rifleman who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, served in Vietnam.
Other dignitaries will be on hand as well, but the most distinguished guests will be the family members of the honorees. Let me introduce you to two of them: Deb Dunham and Romayne McGinnis.
Both are from small towns. Deb and her husband, Dan, live in Scio, in western New York. Romayne and Tom McGinnis are north of Pittsburgh, in Knox, Pa. Both raised kids while holding down jobs outside the home, Deb as a home-ec teacher and Romayne at a department stopre. And both had sons who sacrificed their lives for others.
Jason Dunham and Ross McGinnis enlisted while still in high school. College might come later, and the military could help with that. Jason went to the Marines, eager for the physical challenge. Ross joined the Army, infantry. He loved working on cars, but didn't want to be stuck in a garage all day.
When Ross left for training, he was a kid who'd never been on a plane before. When Romayne saw him again at graduation, she thought, "Wow, what a change."
"He stood straighter, no slouching," she says. "He'd become a man, so respectful" Still her son though. She corrected him when he called her "ma'am."
Deb remembers talking to Jason one night after he'd made squad leader. On the phone, he was the goofy, lovable kid she knew. But then he paused to discipline two passing Marines.
"I didn't hear my son," Deb recalls. "I heard the man that he'd grown into. That kind of rocked me a little bit."
On April 14, 2004, en route to support a convoy that had come under attack near Karabilah, Iraq, Jason's platoon stopped some Iraqi vehicles to search for weapons. An insurgent leaped out of one vehicles and attacked Jason. During the struggle, a grenade was released.
Jason alerted his Marines to the threat, threw his helmet on top of the grenade, and then himself on top of the helmet.
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