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Medal of Honor Recipients Honor Civilian Heroes

By J.D. Leipold
Army News Service

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2013 – Twenty-one Medal of Honor recipients who put their lives on the line in extraordinary ways and circumstances paid tribute yesterday to four citizen-heroes who also went above and beyond for their fellow man.

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Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at an event at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial marking the 150th anniversary of the award of the first Medal of Honor and honoring citizen heroes in Washington, D.C., March 25, 2013. U.S. Army photo by J.D. Leipold

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The first Medal of Honor was presented March 25, 1863, to Union Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott. On the 150th anniversary of that event, more recent Medal of Honor recipients gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to honor fallen war heroes with a somber wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Following the wreath-laying, the Medal of Honor recipients and civilian honorees they had selected from among 23 finalists moved to the nearby Women in Military Service for America Memorial for another ceremony.

There, those four civilians were honored with the "Citizen Service Before Self Honor." The Medal of Honor recipients presented the awards, placing the medals around the necks of the four civilian recipients. The event was sponsored by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and Foundation.

Keynote speaker Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opened the event by conveying what he felt in honoring the fallen at the Tomb of the Unknowns and praising the country's service members who have yet to return from the fight.

"The search light will never wear dim," he said. "For these men and women we mark more than just a mantra, but rather are duty-bound in lifelong obligation that we, in fact, will never forget. … It's an extreme honor and privilege to join each and every one of you here on these hallowed grounds where our warriors rest."

Battaglia directly addressed the 21 Medal of Honor recipients at the event. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines there had served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. He told them they are the embodiment of what the country's citizens, through Congress and the commander in chief, hold most sacred: the traits of courage, integrity, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism and citizenship.

"Of the medal awarded you, your most often quoted response is, 'I wear it for others,'" he said. "You wear it for those who came before us, those who bequeathed to us a nation. You wear it for those who stood with you in times of peril and strife. … You wear it for those who will come after."

Speaking then to the civilians who had earned the Citizen Service Before Self Honors award, Battaglia said the program preserves the ideals of the nation and of the Medal of Honor by seeking out those who either demonstrated lifesaving acts of bravery or those who have demonstrated extraordinary service to others for an extended time.

"This program recognizes that the cloth of our nation is woven in its communities," he said to the four citizen-heroes. "Like those who sit with you and before you, you've made a commitment to our nation, to our way of life, and like them, you will pass along a personal example of courage, integrity, commitment, sacrifice patriotism and citizenship."

This year's civilian honorees are:

-- Rev. Joe Carroll from San Diego, who became known as "The Hustler Priest" for the millions of dollars he's raised over 30 years for shelters and programs for the poor and homeless;

-- Marcos Ugart, 15, of Troutdale, Ore., who rescued a 7-year-old boy from his burning home by climbing a ladder, breaking through the window and pulling the youngster to safety; and

-- Father and son Jesse Shaffer III and Jesse Shaffer IV from Braithwaite, La., for rescuing 120 people by boat who had been left stranded in flooded streets during Hurricane Isaac in August 2012.

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia