Joint Chiefs of Staff, USO Salute Medal of Honor Recipients

On the eve of National Medal of Honor Day, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff partnered with the United Service Organizations Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore to salute the nation’s Medal of Honor recipients here yesterday.

The USO Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore held its 33rd annual awards dinner, where it paid special tribute to nearly 30 recipients of the nation’s highest military honor, as well as yearly accolades to those who serve America’s troops.

Following a video presentation, Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, began the Medal of Honor recipient tributes.

Heroism ‘Thrust Upon Them’

“Our veterans have forged the story of American patriots,” he said. The fabric of our society continues to be built upon the foundation of these patriots who display extraordinary heroism, courage and selfless sacrifice for our nation, Grass said.

“They do not go out seeking to become heroes; it’s thrust upon them,” he said.

Grass quoted a fifth-century writer who once said, “‘the purpose of all wars is lasting peace.’”

“No one wants peace more than our men and women in uniform,” he said. “We are sworn by our Constitution. We have the resolve to defend our Constitution and to secure the blessings of liberty for our men and women across the United States.”

American men and women sacrifice, Grass said, because of the veterans that have gone before us. “We thank you for those who have served,” he said, “who have gone before us in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. And you have given us a shining light to follow.”

Shared Love of Country

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno honored the 16 Medal of Honor recipients from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“As it’s been in previous generations,” he said, “these 16 men came in the Army for many different reasons from many different parts of the United States. But they have one thing in common -- their love of country, their love of freedom and liberty.”

Odierno expressed his pride in standing side by side with the service members to defend the nation’s freedom in foreign countries. He said they tell him the same thing -- we are just ordinary soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

“But in reality,” Odierno said, “they are ordinary men who performed extraordinary acts to save their brothers, and that’s what this is about.”

It’s about the man to the left or right, it’s about the squad, company or platoon, he continued. “It is about doing everything that you possibly can to ensure that everyone comes home together,” Odierno said. “They all live by what we consider to be the most important things –- never quit, never accept defeat and never leave a fallen comrade,” he said. “For us, that’s what our life is about. We are here to honor those heroes that have served so admirably in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Recipients From Afghanistan

Other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff honored three Medal of Honor recipients from Afghanistan who were present for the tribute.

Naval Chief of Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert introduced Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, noting he “represented the best of what America has to offer.”

Air Force Lt. Gen. James M. Holmes, Air Force deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, introduced Army Maj. William D. Swenson, and highlighted his “extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty.”

Army Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck, the deputy commandant for combat development integration, introduced Army Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha, and noted his “exceptional heroism and courage in the face of overwhelming enemy forces.”

Romesha said “it’s a great honor” to be recognized by the USO during the awards dinner. “But what’s more important about it is the acknowledgement they do for all of our service men and women,” he added. “We are a select few, but we represent all of those who have served. By acknowledging us, they acknowledge [them].”

The Medal of Honor recipient said his military service is everything to him.

“I wouldn’t be the man I am today without it,” Romesha said. “You can’t duplicate it, you can’t replicate it, you can’t substitute. It’s something that unless you’ve been there and done it, you don’t quite understand. The vibrancy of service and sacrifice is still great in this nation. You’ve just got to keep on moving to the future,” he said.

Romesha added “never in a million years” did he expect to meet a Medal of Honor recipient, much less become one himself.

“How it’s changed my life has really been the understanding that every one of us, from our birth, has the ability of greatness,” he said.“It’s when that opportunity meets that timing,” he explained, “and what we do when those two things meet, and how we react. [That’s] a message that I never thought I’d understand, but I’d love to pass on to the next generation.”

Romesha praised the USO for always bringing “a little slice of home” to service members stationed or deployed overseas.

“USO has always been there whenever you’re overseas to bring a little slice of home to us over there -- almost an escape from reality,” he said.

Romesha said he was grateful for opportunities such as being able to be at a concert while deployed or being able to meet a NFL player who’s willingly given up their own time to support the troops.

It allows troops “to escape from the reality of what’s going on,” he said, which helps provide clarity to being deployed or serving overseas.

During his remarks, Odierno also lauded the USO for providing the opportunity to honor the nation’s Medal of Honor recipients.

“Thank you for hosting an event that recognizes excellence,” he said.

(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallDoDNews)