ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA —
A group of Americans which has received the U.S. military's highest honor for bravery is gathering this week in Knoxville, Tennessee, for the premiere of a documentary that chronicles the history of the Medal of Honor. But the group does more than just pay tribute to military valor. For several years now, they have also been honoring ordinary civilians with a Citizen Medal of Honor - for acts of bravery and service in communities around the country.
It's a snowy day at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, near Washington, D.C. Living Medal of Honor winners gather to recognize service members killed in the line of duty.
"Thank you for inspiring us then and now with your strength, your will and your heroic hearts," said President Barack Obama at a recent ceremony.
And later at the White House, their numbers increase, as a group of veterans from past wars receive the Medal for their own valor.
They also took some time to recognize non-military valor, however, honoring a group of ordinary citizens for their heroic actions in the face of danger.
"We all started to feel this pull and swimming back to the beach became difficult, if not impossible for some of the others. I realized that because of my junior lifeguard training how to recognize that we were in a rip tide," said nineteen year old Connor Stotts, who risked his own life to rescue three friends from drowning during a beach outing in California in 2011.
"The thought never crossed my mind that I would just swim back to shore without them," said Stotts.
When asked if he would consider himself a hero, he replied, "I know this is something everyone would say, but I don't consider myself a hero. I would consider myself I hope more of an example."
Eight years ago the living Medal of Honor recipients established an award for ordinary people who demonstrated courage, sacrifice and service.
"He was a very caring person who loved to teach and he loved his kids and he loved his family," said Sharon Landsberry, remembering the love of her life, Michael. The mathematics teacher is credited with saving students' lives at a Nevada middle school before he was shot and killed by a 12-year old boy last year. Michael Landsberry was the first citizen to be awarded the honor posthumously.
"I know my husband would do it over again if it were to happen again that was just who he was. He would put his life up to protect those who he loved," she said.
Ronald Rand, who heads the Medal of Honor Foundation, said the award promotes selfless service.
"Everyone could be one of those heroes, and if in fact everyone knew that and recognized that and looked for ways to perform those acts, our society would be a truly wonderful team of people focused on the right values and the right outcomes," said Rand.
The Citizen Medal of Honor recipients say they hope their acts of valor and service will inspire other ordinary people to help those in need and make a difference in their communities.