They were soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines whose first thoughts when lives were at stake were their comrades and sacred duty. Since 1862, the nation has awarded its highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to 3,507 recipients who demonstrated “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” It is a truly noble society of a brave few whose character and example continue to shape America for the better. Tampa Bay residents will be able to see and meet some of these living legends firsthand this week as Medal of Honor recipients gather here to share their stories and reaffirm their permanent connections.
The bravery and selflessness that these service members showed is almost impossible to conceive. Take U.S. Navy Corpsman Robert Ingram of Clearwater. On March 28, 1966, while Ingram accompanied a platoon in Quang Ngai province, a Viet Cong stronghold in south central Vietnam, rifle fire from about 100 North Vietnamese regulars erupted from a village tree line. “In mere moments, the platoon ranks were decimated,” his citation reads. Yet “oblivious to the danger,” Ingram “crawled across the bullet splattered terrain” again and again, treating downed Marines despite being shot four times himself, “disregarding the probability of his demise" and showing an “indomitable fighting spirit” and dedication to duty that “saved many lives that day.”
Their tours of duty may have ended, but their contributions haven’t. The convention in Tampa Bay this week hosted by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society includes meet-and-greets with the public and tours of local landmarks. But more significantly, it includes two days of visits to 20 area schools where the Medal of Honor recipients will speak to the importance of responsible citizenship. The society’s Character Development Program has already trained more than 850 teachers in the three-county area in the value of sacrifice, courage and selfless service. Leaving a strong impression on the youngest generation is an enduring legacy for the entire Tampa Bay region.
Ingram is one of six living Florida residents to have been awarded the honor, and one of four in Florida who will attend the convention this week. Nearly 50 of the 70 living Medal of Honor recipients are expected to attend, which organizers said would be the highest turnout for any such gathering since the 1970′s. That speaks to the acknowledgement by these veterans that their collective presence has important meaning to American life. It also reflects the strong support for these honorees - and for military families more broadly - that’s part of the fabric of the Tampa Bay area.
Those interested in the convention’s itinerary can check the society’s web site. It is a privilege having these veterans here, and all Americans honor their valor and sacrifice and the wonderful example they have set.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.