HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It’s the highest honor the military can bestow.
Saturday, a day after National Medal of Honor Day, a small group gathered outside the state capitol at a memorial built to all the state’s medal of honor recipients to give thanks.
What’s in a name? At a minimum, there’s a story.
“Was in Vietnam with the 1st Air Cavalry Division for a year and a half,” Larry Carter, a member of Vietnam Veterans of American (the group that organized Saturday’s event), said.
But this story isn’t about his story — or anyone’s in the crowd. It’s about the people who weren’t there, the reason the crowd showed up.
Just ask Army medic Ken Menut.
“I never paid attention to what all was here,” he said, walking around in the sunken field behind the capitol building known as Soldier’s Grove.
Pennsylvania’s 378 Medal of Honor recipients are here; not physically, but their names carved into stone, their stories.
“I’d always pass through from the finance building into the forum building and never took the time to realize the importance,” Menut said. “To me, it was just a way of getting to my next work assignment.”
“Randall Shughart is up here,” Carter explained. “He’s the first recipient after Vietnam.”
If anyone knows the names — “Too-Tall Freeman, Bruce Crandall” — It’s Carter.
“And they knew,” he said. “They knew that they were going to die. And they did it anyway.”
“Alexander M. Quinn,” James McAteer’s great-great uncle, he said. “He was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for gallant action in the field.”
McAteer brought the medal, passed down through the years, with him to Saturday’s ceremony.
“He went out and he rescued several people, several soldiers who were wounded under heavy sniper fire,” he said.
Friday and Saturday, veterans stuck a small American flag in the ground for each of the 378 names, each with its own story.
“Show your respect,” Carter said, “and think about what these people, individuals did.”
A 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, the construction of a field cross followed as onlooker saluted.
“These flags and these names represent a living individual that had plans, that had families, that wanted things in their life,” Scott Caves, a veteran and member of the Warrior Brotherhood Motorcycle Club, said. “But they realized in a moment none of that mattered more than saving the lives of the men and women beside them.”
What remains is a story. A name.
“The people represented here represent our country,” McAteer said.
“They throw the word around ‘hero’ a little bit too much, like football heroes and baseball,” Carter said. “They ain’t heroes. They’re nothing. They just happen to be good at football or whatever sport it is.”
“These guys are the heroes,” he said, surrounded by flags attached to names.