Monday, November 13, 2006

In the company of Heroes

I was thrilled to attend a very special Veteran's Day event this weekend, and to shake the hands of five very special men. The first four are recipients of the Medal of Honor for their actions in WWII, Korea or Vietnam. The fifth man is the photographer who created Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty. This beautiful collection contains images of most of the surviving Medal of Honor awardees, captured by photographer Nick Del Calzo, along with the stories of their valour.

Medal of Honor

The book is presented in a format with two pages for each man, one of which is the new photograph, with the other containing the story of their actions and a photo from their days in uniform. The images Nick has captured of each person are great art, studies in light and shadow. You can preview some of the images online at the Portrait Collection site, but you will want to own this book for your self.

It was my honor to meet ...

Richard M. McCool
Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy, USS LCS(L)(3)122. Place and date: Off Okinawa, 10 and 11 June 1945. Entered service at: Oklahoma. Born: 4 January 1922, Tishomingo, Okla.

Thomas Jerome Hudner, Jr.
Rank and organization: Lieutenant (j.g.) U.S. Navy, pilot in Fighter Squadron 32, attached to U.S.S. Leyte. Place and date: Chosin Reservoir area of Korea, 4 December 1950. Entered service at: Fall River, Mass. Born: 31 August 1924, Fall River, Mass.

Kenneth E. Stumpf
Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant (then Sp4c.), U.S. Army, Company C, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Duc Pho, Republic of Vietnam, 25 April 1967. Entered service at: Milwaukee, Wis. Born: 28 September 1944, Neenah, Wis.

Thomas R. Norris
Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy, SEAL Advisor, Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance Team, Headquarters, U.S. Military Assistance Command. Place and date: Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam, 10 to 13 April 1972. Entered service at: Silver Spring, Md. Born: 14 January 1944, Jacksonville, Fla.

The event took place at the Seattle Museum of Flight (see post below), and started with live performances of patriotic music by the Boeing employee band. We were also treated to a presentation of colors. Then photographer Nick Del Calzo talked about his inspiration to capture recent images of as many MOH recipients as he could, to honor their amazing actions and celebrate the living history. He then introduced each man by telling his story, at which point each stepped to the podium to make remarks.

Not surprisingly, each one was totally selfless, taking almost no credit for their brave actions. To a man, they spoke only of love for their brothers in arms, and a desire to do what had to be done.

After they were done, and the colors retired again, they proceeded to sit together at a long table to sign autographs. Many of us had bought the new edition of Medal of Honor to be signed, and we presented the books open to their pages for signature.

What struck me as I came close enough to hear and watch them was their gentle humor and easy natures. They chatted and joked with us, and their eyes lit up when some visitor would mention stories of their own parents service. I had to chuckle when I said to Ken Stumpf, "Thank you, Sir" ... and he responded "Don't call me Sir! My name is Ken". Ken Stumpf, by the way, was a draftee in the Vietnam War, and went on to serve 30 years and retire a Sgt Major.

It still amazes me that these gentlemen were happy to give up their day of honor in order to grace us with their presence. Only Richard McCool lives in the local area, all the rest came from other states. It was a great day ... one that I will cherish all my life.

"May we never forget those who fought for our Freedom.
My Best Wishes, Thomas R. Norris"