Last week in my military science class, we each gave a presentation on a Medal of Honor recipient. For those that don’t know, the Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The President, in the name of Congress, has awarded more than 3,400 Medals of Honor to our nation’s bravest Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen since the decoration’s creation in 1861.
Many of these are awarded post-partum, where these men went above and beyond the call of duty, sacrificing their life to do so. In fact, since World War II, only about 40% of the Medal of Honor recipients received the honor alive.
And of the thousands of recipients, only one has ever been a woman, which was during the Civil War, when she worked as the first female U.S. Army surgeon. However, in 1917, when Congress changed the standards for the Medal of Honor to only include active combat with the enemy, Mary Edwards Walker’s Medal of Honor, along with 910 others, was rescinded.
Currently, there are only 107 living Medal of Honor recipients. But what of the thousands of soldiers that never received this honor, despite giving their all to protect our freedom? Interestingly, when interviewed, most Medal of Honor recipients have stated that it was just as much for his fellow soldiers as it was for him. Navy corpsman Don Ballard, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Vietnam has said, “It’s harder to wear the medal than to earn it.”
Soldiers don’t become soldiers for the glory. They don’t do it for the medals and the recognition. As Douglas McArthur once said, “Duty, Honor, Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be.”
So where am I going with this? If you read my first installment of “The ROTC Rookie,” you will remember my stories of physical training (PT) and my desire to prove something to myself. But something clicked this week for me. I’m not in this to prove anything to anyone. I’m in this to serve my country, a country I love more than anything. I’m in this to protect what so many in this world are denied. Something in my brain made sense of my whole situation. It was a few days after I made my Medal of Honor presentation for class.
For me, it comes down to the Seven Army Values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. Every single soldier that received a Medal of Honor was living these values. When asked by Colonel Rempfer which of the Seven Army Values I held in highest regard, I responded, “Respect. If you don’t have respect for your fellow Americans, respect for the flag, or respect for your nation, it’s easy to forget what holding up freedom means.”
I now know 100% that I want to join the military. Before, I was wavering and was still testing the waters with ROTC to see if it was the right fit for me. But now I know. I know that of the 319 million people in the United States, I am going to be one of the one million American soldiers protecting this country’s freedom.
Now all I need to do is get my PT score up. Which, in the grand scheme, is just one river to cross. Because on the other side is where I belong.