Taking seed a decade ago as a way to honor the nation’s veterans, Gainesville’s Host City Program has received the Presidential Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society —the highest honor it bestows on a community.
Congressional Medal of Honor Society Vice President Col. Hal Fritz, made the presentation to Co-founder Don Pettigrew and Executive Board President Mike McHorse Friday night at the annual banquet.
By all measure the first decade celebration was the most successful, largest and best attended since the program began in 2001.
Eleven Recipients were on hand after four cancellations left the record 16 confirmed attendees to be set another year. Former CMOHS President Barney Barnum was unable to attend due to some abnormal test results, James Taylor had family funeral duties, Mike Thornton had a schedule conflict as did Col. Robert Modrzejewski.
Also in attendance were Recipients, MGen Patrick Brady, Duane Dewey, Ken Stumpf, Clarence Sasser, Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, Don “Doc” Ballard, Woody Williams, and Bob O’Malley.
Fritz, Brady, Dewey and Miyamura brought to 33 the number of Medal of Honor Recipients who have had a tree planted in their honor along Gainesville’s Home Town Heroes’ Walking Trail.
This year featured a dinner and program provided by the joined forces of the Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H and other youth organizations. Many of the Recipients remarked that they were pleased to see traditional values being taught in these groups.
It was heartening and emotional for this reporter to witness a civic center full of children who could identify and explain what the Medal of Honor was, and what it meant to the nation.
Try that in your sagging-pants, cell phone-obsessed, gang-infested, neighborhood public school.
Clarence Sasser and his bright red 2006 Corvette are big hits with the Gainesville folks; below he was able to procure his own Boy Scout Troop for the duration of the evening.
The soft-spoken Army medic told a school gathering that the greatest part of receiving the Medal was the knowledge that he’d “made (his) parents and family proud of (him).” He saved the lives of numerous fellow soldiers while crawling under intense enemy fire to treat them, despite being badly wounded at the outset of a battle in Vietnam.
The annual parade is always a hit what with dozens of law enforcement and fire departments vehicles from throughout North Texas, as well as scores of motorcycles, classic cars and vintage military vehicles.
One young parade watcher apparently found the din just a bit much during the early stretch of the parade which had the most entries and was the longest in Cooke county history.
And… we do not neglect our Host City Program air space… arranged for by our Air Forces Commodore Tom Schad, the annual fly-over included a B-25B Mitchell Bomber made famous by the “Doolittle raid on Tokyo” that hit the Japanese homeland only months after Pearl Harbor.
Always favorites…. Hueys and Cobras were airborne for several passes down Gainesville’s California Street—air show center for the morning. And in Gainesville…. when we call in a dust-off………. WE CALL IN A DUST-OFF!!!
Vietnam Recipient David McNerney served as Grand Marshal of the Parade; always a crowd favorite, the retired first sergeant is a big hit with the grade school crowd.
Two years ago he was added to the Wall of Heroes at Lee Elementary School—he has been in Gainesville more than some of our elected politicians.
Then and now
Shown, l-r, are Williams, hero of Iwo Jima-2010, Williams—1945 in a portrait donated to us by Darrell Lynn at Hero Portraits and myself.
This great organization has agreed to provide us with a Recipient portrait each year.
Back in 1995 Woody posed for a photo with me and Don which I brought out for his amusement considering that he had lost weight in the last 15 years, while Don and I had gained. Woody was kind not to mention this.
Lynette’s birthday fell smack in the middle of the festivities, and fortunately Don was able to remember and get her a present, having recalled that the big day came at the same time a busload of Recipients arrives.
It is absolutely gorgeous… so we wonder who helped him pick it out.
At left he is shown receiving his well-deserved thanks.
Duane Dewey, Doc Ballard and Woody Williams all added their John Hancocks to make it a stellar bid-getter in out silent auction.
It is hard to imagine what it’s like for these men who have literally signed their names hundreds of thousands of times since they received the nation’s highest award for valor.
Long lines, the same questions over and over, the hand shakes, the photos, the occasional meeting with someone who served in the same unit…. they sig until there are no more requests and in the process may have made an indelible mark on someone's lives that will pay dividends to this great nation.
At the end of a long weekend, we relaxed for another evening before bidding farewell to this remarkable groups of men and their wives who have sacrificed so much for this nation of ours, without complaint, bitterness or regret.
Ronald Reagan asked the rhetorical question, “Where do we find such men?”
I believe it is because God provides them for the good of us all, and as is so often in the case of the Medal of Honor… less than half survive to accept our meager thanks.
In the decade since we began the Host City Program, we have lost 62 Medal of Honor Recipients; Lee Elementary has maintained a permanent reminder of their heroism, and each year we honor them as well.