WHITE HOUSE — Police officers and firefighters who put themselves in harm’s way to save lives have been honored at the White House. Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder presented the awards.
The Medal of Valor is the highest national honor for a U.S. public safety officer.
The vice president and attorney general awarded the medal to 14 first responders, and to the families of four others who died in the line of duty. Biden praised the heroism of America's first responders.
“That is why we are here today, to honor those rare few who have looked certain danger in the face, faced it with incredible valor, all the while saying ‘It is my duty.’”
Biden said those honored shared a selflessness that is not easily explained. He gave several examples, including Robert Lombardo and Joshua Miller of the Pennsylvania State Police, who saved the life of a boy who had been kidnapped by his father. Lombardo was wounded in the shootout, and Miller was killed.
“What is it that pushes a man like Trooper Joshua Miller to think that the safety of a kidnapped 9-year-old child is more important than his own physical safety? To engage the kidnapper, even after he had been wounded, instead of trying to find cover or get treatment for his wounds? What is it?” asked Biden.
A medal also was awarded to firefighters from Virginia Beach, Virginia, who crawled through intense heat to rescue a baby from a house fire.
Another Medal of Valor was given to an off-duty Arkansas state fish and game officer who sped to the scene of a shootout between a suspect and police. Officer Michael Neal rammed his vehicle into one driven by a man who was shooting semi-automatic weapons at the police, likely saving the officers’ lives.
Biden said the White House ceremony gave him the rare opportunity to recognize the bravery and heroism of public safety officers.
“You are the heart, you are the soul, you are the spine of the nation. And the really sad thing is that it takes an extraordinary act for the community to rise up and recognize what you do, although you know it. You know it,” said the vice president.
Biden also paid tribute to the sacrifices of the families of first responders, especially those whose loved ones have died in the line of duty.