- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Each year a select few individuals are awarded one of the highest military awards — even though they never stepped foot onto a battlefield.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation gives its preeminent award to distinguished civilians who have displayed the same courage, selflessness, sacrifice and patriotism displayed by our nation’s bravest servicemen.

“There are people in hometown USA who have done heroic things at the risk of their lives, demonstrating the same character traits as the Medal of Honor Recipients, and we need to find them,” said Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation President Thomas Wilkerson.

The Medal of Honor became an official military honor during the Civil War, when Secretary of War Edwin Stanton awarded the medal to six Union Army volunteers on March 25, 1863 in his office. About 80 living soldiers have received the award, representing the 3,463 servicemen who have been received the medal.

Recently, however, many of the living recipients of the Medal of Honor thought to extend the honor.

The living recipients “are starting to say, ‘Well, what’s our legacy?’” said Mr. Wilkerson.

The Medal of Honor Foundation created the Citizen’s Honor Program to spotlight average Americans who have done outstanding acts throughout their communities at the risk of their lives in a moment of crisis or over a prolonged period of service.

According to the foundation, nominees for this award must clearly demonstrate an act of extraordinary heroism or a long-term act of selfless service without expectation of reward at some point over the last three years.

After a panel of judges which includes Medal of Honor recipients deliberates over the nominees, 20 national finalists are selected and receive a CMOH Society Certificates of Commendation. From this group, three individuals are selected to receive the Citizen Honors Medal at a ceremony on March 25, at Arlington National Cemetery near the Tomb of the Unknown.

In 2010, Timothy Brooks of Pennsylvania was awarded the medal after rescuing a woman and her three children from the Delaware River after their boat began to sink.

Brandon Wemhoff of Lincoln, Nebraska was given the award in 2011 after sacrificing himself to foible a robbery in May of that year.

Last year, the award was given to the late Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach and Victoria Soto of Newtown, Connecticut who gave their lives and to protect their students during the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.

Still, for Mr. Wilkerson and the congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, awarding civilians with a medal of honor is more than merely a kind gesture.

“What [the Medal of Honor recipients] are communicating is inspiration,” said Mr. Wilkerson.

Mr. Wilkerson believes that it is not good enough to merely put the honorees up on a pedestal. Rather, he hopes that the stories of these citizens serve as examples of the capacity that all humans have for strength in the midst of difficult circumstances.

“Our hope is that through the example of hometown heroes we can inspire Americans across the country to show they, too, have courage, selflessness, sacrifice and patriotism,” said Mr. Wilkerson.


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