As Arlington celebrated the announcement of its selection as the site for the new National Medal of Honor Museum, the occasion reminded us of America’s greatness — something sorely needed in today’s divided society.
In his remarks to the overflow crowd at the Oct. 4 event, retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady, himself a recipient of the nation’s highest honor for valor, emphasized the greater meaning of the award.
He said that while it acknowledges the sacrifices and remarkable courage of more than 3,500 of the nation’s bravest soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, the values of the award go beyond the individual acts of heroism that won them the recognition.
Its higher purpose, he emphasized, is to remind us all that it represents an ideal that should endure in all ways of life. He said the museum will promote love of country and remind us of the commitment to support and defend the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
His explanation is consistent with the museum’s mission to help our country’s youth become worthy citizens in the belief that ordinary Americans have the potential to challenge fate and change the course of history.
Integrity is a watchword of the museum’s purpose defined as the mark of a true hero is to have the moral courage to do what needs to be done because it is the right thing to do.
All of that is bound up in the stories of remarkable heroism that museum visitors will encounter as they tour the facility that is targeted to open within the next 36 months.
Brady shared some of his own story, which included the account of a soldier he rescued as a helicopter pilot whose job it was to retrieve the injured from battlefields across Vietnam. It was just one of thousands he repeatedly risked his own life to recover, often in the midst of heavily armed enemy forces.
Sgt. First Class Webster Anderson’s defensive battery position had come under heavy mortar, rocket-propelled grenade and automatic weapon fire. Two enemy grenades exploded at his feet, and he lost both legs.
Unable to stand, he propped himself on the parapet and continued to direct howitzer fire upon the closing enemy. Another grenade landed in the gun pit, and as he grabbed it to throw from the position to protect his gun crew, it exploded and cost him his arm.
Brady described his fellow soldier’s body as being more plastic than flesh. He said Anderson credited him with saving his life, but Brady deflected credit to the medical team at the hospital where he delivered Anderson.
In years to follow, Brady and Anderson shared their stories with audiences around the country. In one of those events, someone in attendance asked Anderson if he knew he would lose both his legs and an arm, would he again do what he did in combat.
His answer was immediate. He said while he had only one good arm left, his country could have it, too, anytime it might be needed.
Anderson’s Medal of Honor Citation concludes: “Anderson’s gallantry and extraordinary heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U. S. Army.”
Museum visitors will get to learn of the gallantry of all those honored there. In the process, they will be reminded of the singular privilege of being among all those wearing our nation’s uniforms who keep America the freest nation in all of human history.