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Chicago Hosts Those Who Hold Medal of Honor


Congress established the Medal of Honor, the highest honor awarded for bravery in the U.S. armed forces, in 1862. Since then, presidents have awarded 3,448 Medals of Honor. Only 95 recipients are still alive, most of them veterans of World War II or the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. Each year many of the medal recipients who are still alive gather for a meeting in their honor.

In a White House ceremony, Army Sergeant 1st Class Jared Monti became the 3,448th person to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

"Compassion. Perseverance. Strength. A love for his fellow soldiers. Those are the values that defined Jared Monti's life - and the values he displayed in the actions that we recognize here today," Mr. Obama said.

On patrol in Afghanistan in 2006, Monti and his men encountered a barrage of enemy gunfire. He was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and died trying to save his men.

Monti's heroism places him in an elite group of Americans.

In Chicago, where many of the living Medal of Honor recipients gathered for their annual convention, the reality of the sacrifice of recent recipients is not lost on organizers of the event like Ed Tracy.

"We have had six posthumous medals of honors in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Jared Monti's award is another example of the difficulty our troops are facing in a war that is really a 24-hour combat situation," Tracy says, "and you don't know who the enemy is."

Medal of Honor recipient Allan Kellogg knew who the enemy was in Vietnam the night of March 11, 1970. He used his body to shield fellow soldiers from an exploding grenade.

Kellogg survived the ordeal, and now comes to the annual meeting to share in the fellowship of those fellow recipients still living, whose number is dwindling.

"Right now we're down to 95," Kellogg explains, "and when I came in the program there were 188. So we started losing the people. Age was taking its toll (on) World War 2 (veterans), slowly slipping into Korea and then into the bottom end of Vietnam. We're losing too many good people."

And every year when they all get together, it's more than just a chance to share old war stories. There is a theme and purpose to their gathering. This year the theme is "Commit to Courage."

"A lot of people don't understand the kind of sacrifice that these soldiers represent. But their real mission is to get the word out about commitment to courage, the kind of decision-making process that you make every day and in everyday life," Tracy says, "They go around the country each year, in different cities and different towns, and they talk to school groups and try to raise awareness about the values of patriotism and service to country."

Kellogg spent more than 30 years in the Marine Corps. He went on to work for the Veterans Administration, where he now helps homeless vets in Hawaii. While in Chicago he visited with ailing veterans.

"It's been an honor for you gentlemen to step through these doors," Ronald Petersen says, "It just made my day!"

Petersen served with the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and is now a patient at the Jesse Brown Medical Center, a veterans hospital in Chicago. He says Medal of Honor recipients deserve all Americans' respect and gratitude.

"If you kids could only know, there's only a handful of these guys," he says, "They don't give this award out just for - you know, in a Cracker Jack box."

The bravery these military veterans displayed on the battlefield is matched by a public outpouring of support wherever they gather to meet each year, and throughout the nation.

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