All told, 26 recipients of the nation's highest military honor, earned in conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan attended a luncheon Tuesday at the airport. It was part of a multi-day series of events in multiple cities, culminating with Medal of Honor Day on Wednesday.
In order to join the society, you have to be a recipient of the Medal of Honor. And since Vietnam, those awards have become far less common.
The society wants to leave a legacy that promotes its core values: courage, sacrifice, commitment, integrity, patriotism and citizenship. There are 79 living Medal of Honor recipients. Nine of them earned their medals since the end of the Vietnam War four decades ago (all in Afghanistan). The society started in 1946, chartered by Congress and President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958 will someday soon have just a handful of members, and will have to "case the colors," Fritz said.
The origins of the society dates back to 1890 with the Medal of Honor Legion, formed to protect the integrity of the award. Since the inception of the MoH during the Civil War, different yet similarly designed awards and stolen valor had clouded the award's prestige.
In 1946, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society formed with a different mission: to perpetuate the ideals of the medal.
Today, that includes honoring civilians who embody the MoH spirit. When its capacity for outreach diminishes, members hope the award's values, along with memory and recognition of those who embody them – from soldiers to ordinary citizens – endure.
Medal of Honor recipient Army Sgt. 1st Class Bennie Adkins arrives at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on March 24 in Arlington, Va.
Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff
Mission at the school
"It's going to be a magnificent legacy, long standing, beacon of America," Fritz said. "There will be a standing testament to the sacrifice of men and women throughout the history of this nation."
The National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation has been fundraising for about a year, and has raised about $5 million, with a goal to reach $50 million by the end of 2015, Fritz said.
Maj. Will Swenson, a hero from Operation Enduring Freedom, was there. And so was Hershel "Woody" Williams, a 91-year-old retired Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4. Williams had just return to the U.S. from his first trip back to Iwo Jima. His first visit earned him the Medal of Honor.
"It's humbling to be part of a living history that stretches all the way back to World War II and to now be a part of that continuing thread," Swenson said.
The group has become tight-knit, a bond forged over shared experiences both in battle and beyond.
Expanding the outreach
In a decade or two the group of MoH recipients will be a much smaller group, Littrell said. But he hopes students across the country will still be learning of these heroes and their stories.
But mostly, he hopes the values stick.