Medal of Honor Recipients Honor Top Citizen Heroes

Story by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity

Retired Air Force Medal of Honor recipient Leo K. Thorsness clasps the Citizen Service Before Self Honors medal around Jesse Shaffer III, as son Jesse Shaffer IV and Army Medal of Honor recipient Harold A. Fritz, far right, look on during a ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Va., March 25, 2013. The Shaffers received the medal for rescuing 120 people by boat from streets that had flooded Braithwaite, La., after Hurricane Isaac swept through their community in August 2012.

Retired Air Force Medal of Honor recipient Leo K. Thorsness clasps the Citizen Service Before Self Honors medal around Jesse Shaffer III, as son Jesse Shaffer IV and Army Medal of Honor recipient Harold A. Fritz, far right, look on during a ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Va., March 25, 2013.

As a civilian working with the Defense Department, I’m amazed each day by the stories of heroism and selfless service that I encounter by simply walking through the office door, coffee in hand, at 7:30 a.m.

I’ve no doubt said “hello” to a handful of service members and veterans on the way to my desk and by 8:15 a.m., I’m reading comments from DoDLive Facebook fans and searching the wires for the latest news about U.S. troops.

The morning of Monday, March 25, I was extra excited for the stories I knew would develop that day. A group of the nation’s greatest heroes was gathering at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., that day to honor four American citizens who displayed extraordinary acts of selflessness and courage to help others.

The country’s greatest war heroes honoring the country’s most heroic Samaritans; what’s not to be excited about? 21 Medal of Honor recipients convened at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial to present the “Citizen Service Before Self Honors,” award on the 150th anniversary of the first Medal of Honor presentation.

This award is usually presented to three American citizens every year, though this year offered for honorees thanks to a father and son team from Louisiana. This year’s honorees are:

  • Father 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.
  • Father and son Jesse Shaffer III and Jesse Shaffer IV from Braithwaite, La., who rescued 120 people by boat who had been stranded during Hurricane Isaac in August 2012.
Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gives the keynote address during the Citizen Service Before Self Honors award ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Va., March 25, 2013. U.S. Army photo by J.D. Leipold

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gives the keynote address during the Citizen Service Before Self Honors award ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Va., March 25, 2013. U.S. Army photo by J.D. Leipold

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presided over the event. He praised the Medal of Honor recipients as the ideal personification of courage, integrity, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism and citizenship.

Battaglia then addressed the four citizen honorees, noting that their accomplishments and the “Citizen Service Before Self Honors,” award program exemplify the same ideals as the Medal of Honor.

“This program recognizes that the cloth of our nation is woven in its communities. 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.”

As I sat at my desk, reading through details of the ceremony’s events, an incredible sense of pride, hope and patriotism welled up inside me.

I was bolstered by the knowledge that heroes live among us every day, some in uniform, some not.  I felt proud to know that admiration and respect were exchanged so freely between military and civilian heroes. I felt hopeful that even during complex times, American citizens remain committed to each other and to creating a stronger, safer country.

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