Skip to comments.Medal of Honor Convention: Nation's highest military award comes full circle at Gettysburg
Posted on 09/19/2013 11:32:58 PM PDT by iowamark
Whether war is waged in the desert, jungle, or the rocky terrain of a small Pennsylvania town is irrelevant to those who fought it.
Eventually, the surviving soldiers all go home, where uniforms and medals come off.
A few, though, keep on their finger identical gold rings, naked of any marks distinguishing rank or military organization. Only the Medal of Honor insignia identifies the rings.
For the men who wear them, the bands of gold are a reminder that they are members of a band of brothers dating back to the Battle of Gettysburg. And they are all equals.
It has been 150 years since President Lincoln presented the first Medals of Honor to soldiers who fought in the Civil War. More than 1,600 Union soldiers were awarded the medal, including 63 at Gettysburg.
In total, more than 3,400 men and one woman who have become recipients - not winners, as they will quickly correct you - of the award given to the military heroes who went above and beyond the call of duty during combat.
Next week, at least 48 of these men are expected to arrive in Gettysburg to attend the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention from Sept. 18 to 22.
Over the course of the four days, the recipients visit the grounds of President Eisenhower's farm, hear a concert on at the Pennsylvania Monument on the battlefield, and spend time interacting with the people of Gettysburg.
Bringing the event to Gettysburg has been a three-year project, president and CEO of the convention Bob Monahan said last week.
"We are connecting them, as recipients, with their history," he said.
Still, for many of the recipients, the annual convention is about more than just remembering.
Marine Col. Harvey Barnum was one of the first soldier from Vietnam to receive the medal. For him, the convention is more like a supporting family, there to comfort each other or just to remember the good times.
"A lot of people don't talk about war because it is horrifying, not glorifying," Barnum said. "But when we are all together we talk about it. For some of them, it is good to talk to someone who actually knows what the hell they went through."
Barnum was given the Medal of Honor in 1967 for his actions during the Vietnam War. When his battalion was ambushed, and his company cut off from the rest of the group, Barnum assumed command and led the rest of his company in a successful counter-attack.
But if you ask Barnum what he remembers about that day, he will tell you it was the weight of the company commander dying in his arms, and the ferocity with which his peers rallied.
"There's no fury like a bunch of Marines," Barnum said. "You are just a caretaker of that medal for those of your team who were with you that day."
Now president of the Medal of Honor Society, Barnum will be on the stage when another ring is presented to the most recent recipient - Army Spc. Ty Carter, given the medal last month for gallantry in Afghanistan - during the convention this week.
The convention will host 37 recipients from Vietnam, five from Korea, four from World War II, and two from Afghanistan, each have vastly different memories of their wartime experiences. But all of the soldiers understand what is like to be a new recipient of the Medal of Honor.
For Harold Fritz, one of the first Vietnam War veterans to receive the medal, it seemed unlikely he would be able to relate to the other recipients. At the time, many had fought in World War II and the Korean War.
"I thought I don't even think I can be close to these guys," Fritz said. "But we adjusted. We try to be as close as possible."
The lieutenant colonel hung up his uniform and retired from military service in 1993. His gold ring still glints in the Illinois light of his home where he lives with his wife.
"You get to know them and talk to them more and more each year," Fritz said. "It cements that bond of brotherhood and family, and builds that bridge."
From the forgotten valleys of Korea, to the cities of Europe, to the rice paddies of Vietnam, and to the mountains of Afghanistan, the medal's journey comes full circle at what many consider America's own hallowed grounds of war.
But it is the ring the soldiers choose to wear. And when they look down on the little band of gold, it is a reminder their long march wasn't walked alone.
Medal events open to public
Though the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention is privately organized, several events will be open to the public.
Thursday: A public meet-and-greet event will take place at the Wyndham Hotel, and the public can meet the Medal of Honor recipients one-on-one, take photos and get autographs.
Friday: There will be a town hall forum and community outreach event at Gettysburg College, emceed by Chris Wallace, where recipients will be interviewed. Audience members can take part in the conversation.
Later that evening, a public concert will be held on the Gettysburg battlefield at the Pennsylvania Monument. The U.S. Armed Forces Color Guard, the West Point Cadet Glee Club and "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, which performed during President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, are scheduled to play.
"After the concert, we are going to have the largest fireworks display probably ever seen in Adams County," said Gettysburg developer Bob Monahan, president and CEO of the convention.
Saturday: The final public event is the Patriot Award Dinner at the Wyndham. Recipients, elected officials, senior military officers, business executives and community leaders will be there. Awards including the Bob Hope Award for Entertainment and the Patriot Award will be given out at the dinner.
The meet-and-greet, town hall forum and concert are free, but require a ticket. Tickets for the Patriot dinner start at $500.
Tickets are taken, but those who wish to attend can get on a waiting list in case tickets become available.
For more information about the convention or to reserve tickets for an event, visit www.cmoh2013.org.
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