“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty…”
So begins the Medal of Honor citation.
Each year on March 25th, we mark National Medal of Honor Day. This day is meant to be a day of reflection on the lives and sacrifices of the ones who have put duty to country and the lives of their fellow service members above personal safety, and paid the ultimate price.
First awarded in 1861, the Medal of Honor has now been awarded to only 3,487 individuals, a mere 77 of whom are still alive today. It was awarded to 119 people for valor in World War One, 474 in World War Two, 146 in Korea, and 257 in Vietnam. As a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 4 and 9 people have been awarded the Medal of Honor, respectively. The modern meaning of the Medal was not immediate and had to be developed over time. It was not until 1963 that the guidelines used today were established, which helped to standardize the awarding of the honor among the branches of the military.
During my time in Congress, I have had the honor of paying tribute to two Medal of Honor recipients from the 1st Congressional District, through the renaming of their home town Post Offices.
Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn, a soldier in the United States Army and a resident of Riverhead, NY, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism on January 15, 1969 during the Vietnam War. He was part of a team that had been sent to rescue two pilots whose helicopter had been shot down. During the mission, the unit was attacked by North Vietnamese forces and became surrounded. According to his Medal of Honor citation, “An enemy hand grenade landed in front of Pfc. Langhorn and a few feet from personnel who had become casualties. Choosing to protect these wounded, he unhesitatingly threw himself on the grenade, scooped it beneath his body and absorbed the blast.” Pfc. Langhorn was 20 years old.
Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, a United States Navy SEAL who grew up in Patchogue, NY, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on June 28, 2005 during the war in Afghanistan. He was the leader of a four-man team on a mission to locate a high-level enemy combatant. During the mission, the team became besieged by 30-40 enemy fighters. His Medal of Honor citation reads, “Demonstrating exceptional resolve, Lieutenant Murphy valiantly led his men in engaging the large enemy force.” With all of the team members suffering from wounds, Lt. Murphy took over communications with Headquarters. While exposing himself to enemy fire in order to reach a location from which to send a message, he was mortally wounded. Lt. Murphy was 29 years old.
One day set aside for the remembrance and recognition of these and the thousands of other acts of valor carried out by Medal of Honor recipients seems insignificant. But that is why the communities from which they came name Post Offices, schools, community centers, and other public spaces in their memory. It is so that their names do not fade and their stories live on from one generation to the next.
Today, please take a moment to share the lives of Pfc. Langhorn and Lt. Murphy with someone you know, and encourage them to share their heroic stories, as well. In this way, we ensure their legacy endures.
If you would like to learn more about the Medal of Honor and the individuals who have received it, you can visit www.cmohs.org.