There was a special military anniversary on March 25 and most Americans probably weren’t aware it was taking place.
Last Monday marked 150 years since the first National Medal of Honor Day, a special anniversary that was commemorated at Mount Pleasant Town Hall. A display case in the building has held three Medals of Honor–one each for the U.S. Army and Air Force and another representing the Marines and the Navy. Last week the town added a Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart to its collection.
Hawthorne American Legion Post 112 Commander Peter Fiumefreddo, chairman of the New York State Medal of Honor Committee, said the day has been celebrated every year on March 25, since it was established by President Abraham Lincoln and a congressional act. The first Medal of Honor was given by Lincoln to Andrew’s Raiders on March 25, 1863, following a daring Union raid to destroy the railroad link between Atlanta and Chattanooga during the Civil War. It was the first of 3,460 medals presented.
The Medal of Honor is the highest distinction that can be awarded by a president for a member of the armed forces. It recognizes the gallantry of members of the armed forces who have performed above and beyond the call of duty.
Few Americans observe National Medal of Honor Day, Fiumefreddo said. It isn’t a celebration but a chance to reflect on the sacrifices made by those who have received the honor to preserve American freedoms, he said.
“Unfortunately, all too many Americans are not even aware of its existence,” Fiumefreddo said.
Post 112 was responsible for the construction of the New York State Medal of Honor Monument that is located in front of town hall in Valhalla, said Vice Commander Frank Morganthaler. Prior to the construction of the monument, which was unveiled in 2008, there was no recognition for state residents who had received the honor, he said.
It lists the names of the 90 Medal of Honor recipients from New York State. Since its construction, Post 112 has held a Medal of Honor Day ceremony.
“It’s said that a nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure,” Morganthaler said. “We’re here today, I think, to make sure that we do endure. We are going to honor our heroes.”
Earlier in the day, Post 112 members visited the graves of the four Medal of Honor recipients buried in town.
The post will refurbish the Gold Star Mothers and Korean/Vietnam Wars monuments, also located outside town hall, and will create a new POW/MIA monument to be located adjacent to the one recognizing the Medal of Honor. The organization hopes to complete the POW/MIA monument by the end of the year. A walkway on the grounds will be officially named the Mount Pleasant Military Walk of Honor.
In 2009, Post 112 established the Medal of Honor display in the lobby of town hall. Added to the three Medals of Honor last week were a Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart.
“It is hoped that this display will keep alive the memory of our heroes and provide an awareness and understanding of the Medal of Honor,” Morganthaler said.
Post 112 Vice Commander Joseph Gullotta said the Distinguished Service Cross, established by President Woodrow Wilson and Congress in 1917, can be awarded to any person who distinguishes himself through extraordinary heroism while serving in any capacity with the Army. The heroism must have been shown “in the presence of great danger and at a great personal risk,” Gullotta said.
Joseph Tanzi, a Purple Heart recipient and a Post 112 member, said the Purple Heart is the oldest military award, first given by George Washington in 1782. It is presented by the president to military members wounded or killed while serving in active duty.
Mount Pleasant Supervisor Joan Maybury, who attended last week’s ceremony, said it’s critical to remember the importance of the Medal of Honor recipients, particularly on its 150th anniversary, calling them “the true heroes” of the armed services.