In celebration of Memorial Day weekend, four Medal of Honor recipients visited Lincoln County students Friday morning at North Lincoln High School, offering their personal testimonies of war stories and heroic acts.
The North Carolina Army National Guard and American Legion Post 30 in Lincolnton sponsored the event, which included appearances and speeches from United States Army 2nd Lt. Walter Joseph Marm, Jr., U.S. Army Specialist Robert Martin Patterson, U.S. Army Specialist Ty Michael Carter and U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris.
Each have received the highly coveted military honor — the “highest award for valor in action against an enemy force,” according to cmohs.org — from either a president or other top official, including the Secretary of the U.S. Army.
Since 1863, nearly 3,500 individuals have received the Medal of Honor, and 78 are still alive today, according to cmohs.org.
From 19th century American Civil War to the wars in recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan, military members continue to maintain courage and bravery under fire, risking their lives for the sacrifice of fellow soldiers and American freedom as a whole.
For Carter, 34, who fought in the Nuristan Province in Afghanistan in 2009, he saw no other option than to save a critically wounded comrade who had become pinned down and exposed to his Middle Eastern enemy in the midst of combat.
“When you participate in something that intense,” he said, “you become like family. I’m going to do everything I can to do my job to save them.”
Not only did he run a distance of 100 meters twice over the course of multiple hours in front of enemy fire to retrieve ammunition but he also saved the fallen soldier and one of his squad’s radios from being taken by their opponents, allowing the Americans to determine their evacuation plan from the area.
“I reacted without choice,” Carter told the crowd of silenced students. “It was instinct.”
He said he’ll never forget the nervousness and humility he felt during last year’s Medal of Honor ceremony when President Barack Obama handed him his award.
“I was able to look out and see family and see the pride on their faces,” he said, “and that made everything worth it.”
Morris, 72, received the Medal of Honor in March, decades after he went beyond the call of duty in Chi Lang in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War in 1969.
During the fight, he achieved a valiant feat similar in nature to Carter’s.
Morris was shot three times while he moved his battalion into enemy territory, rescuing a fallen soldier and crushing his opponent along the way, according to cmohs.org.
In the end, he was able to reach safety and return to friendly lines.
“I was a Green Beret,” he said. “We don’t leave jobs unfinished.”
Even though he dropped out of high school, he improved his future by joining the National Guard for a year before volunteering at age 19 for the Berets.
“The military gives you another way out,” he said, “if you don’t have another way.”
Morris encouraged students on Friday to stay in school until graduating and to look for additional options for future success when college doesn’t seem to be the right fit.
“I’m so honored to have been in the U.S. military,” he said. “It was an honorable profession.”
Like Morris, Marm was also wounded in battle, receiving in the Vietnam War a bullet to the jaw that exited his neck, Lincolnton Mayor John Gilleland revealed during his introduction of the 72-year-old veteran.
Marm received the Medal of Honor a year after he led his platoon through enemy territory in Ira Drang, Republic of Vietnam, where he both relieved a friendly unit and destroyed a number of enemy soldiers in the process, cmohs.org said.
However, his bravery didn’t stop there.
When a clandestine enemy machine gun continued to fire on Marm and his platoon, the men sprinted 30 meters into enemy territory to squelch their combatant.
The event drew to a close after the American soldiers successfully killed more than eight Vietnamese soldiers, cmohs.org said.
Near the end of the fight, Marm was armed with a simple rifle.
According to the Medal of Honor website, he showcased “selfless actions” that not only decreased the amount of enemy fire on his men at the time but also “broke the enemy assault and rallied his unit to continue toward” accomplishing their mission.
“I’m very, very fortunate to be honored among the living (MOH) recipients,” Marm said.
He told students he spent three months in an army hospital following the intense battle, recovering from his jaw wound.
Hollywood later made the movie “We Were Soldiers” — starring Mel Gibson — about Marm and his platoon’s courageous fight.
Patterson, the fourth and final recipient present at Friday’s special Medal of Honor presentation, spent most of his talk with students urging them to get educated and set high goals in life, spending little time reflecting on his war stories.
“I always thought I’d be a tobacco farmer,” he said.
Growing up in Fayetteville, Patterson believed his options in life were limited, but he later learned about the endless possibilities the military offered.
In 1969, he received the Medal of Honor for valiant efforts he displayed a year earlier in La Chu, also in the Republic of Vietnam.
At the time, he served as a fire team leader, he said, and used machinegun fire and grenades to annihilate enemy bunkers.
Following the Medal of Honor recipients’ speeches, students engaged in a question and answer session with the men — most teens eager to know more about the soldiers’ decisions to move toward their enemies during each attack.
For more information on the history of the Medal of Honor, visit cmohs.org.