This column is about an American institution. A medal. In fact, THE medal as far as military awards and decorations go. Monday will be a special day, especially for folks living in this area, although it is not a national holiday, nor any day the public will likely notice.
According to a trusty military-oriented calendar, March 25 is National Medal of Honor Day. I can't say what that means or what one should do to observe it. A recommended possibility would be to go to the two national cemeteries in Leavenworth and Mount Calvary Cemetery in Lansing and pay respects to the 20 or so recipients of our nation's highest award for valor who rest in the three cemeteries.
From the several history books I have about the Medal of Honor I couldn't find where the date March 25 came from. But since the medal had so many "birthdays," such as when Congress authorized it, when President Lincoln signed it into law, and when the first awards were presented, I suppose any date would be a fine one. I'm just glad there is such a date to honor the medal and its recipients.
Before I go further, let me clear up two continuing myths about the medal. Its name, in law and in the Associated Press Stylebook, is Medal of Honor. The stylebook says "There is no Congressional Medal of Honor."
Yes, it is awarded in the name of Congress, and the organization of living recipients is called The Congressional Medal of Honor Society, but that is because the society was chartered by Congress after WW II, making it a Congressional organization.
And a so far losing battle I've had with the Leavenworth Times is in getting folks there not to refer to recipients as "winners." None consider themselves as having awakened on the day of their award-winning deed to say "Well, I believe I'll go into battle and win the Medal of Honor today."
Those who have been awarded the medal refer to themselves as "recipients," military personnel who received the medal, but did not "win" it. You set out to win a political contest, or sporting event, or a battle, but not our highest award for battle.
Before I run out of space I need to mention the three recipients in this area, each of whom was a first in the annals of the medal. Two are in Leavenworth and one is in the Kansas City area.
Ret. Col. Roger Donlon of Leavenworth was the very first to receive the medal during the Vietnam War. The New York native opted to retire in Leavenworth when his 30 years of military dedication to his country ended.
Also in Leavenworth is Ret. Lt. Col. Charles "Chuck" Hagemeister, a Nebraska native who also opted for life in Leavenworth. He was the first recipient of the Vietnam War to not also receive a Purple Heart, as he was not wounded. And he says that is a fact that has never bothered him.
Page 2 of 2 - The sole Missouri recipient is Ret. Col. Don "Doc" Ballard, Kansas National Guard, who became the only recipient in history to receive the medal for jumping on a grenade that did not explode.
That, too, is a fact he's never been bothered by.
The three area recipients are almost never at the same place at the same time, so chances of you congratulating them simultaneously are very slim. Make that virtually nonexistent. But should you run across any of them Monday, it would be a good day to extend a hand and thank them for their service.
Barring the chance of actually seeing one of the living recipients in this area, a good other option would be to walk through the three area cemeteries seeking the tombstones of the 20 or so resting there. They are easy to find as each tombstone has an etching of the medal, the words "Medal of Honor," and all words are painted in gold wash. Only 80 living recipients are still among us.