Of the two hundred and forty Vietnam War Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, only sixty are still living. Which makes meeting three of them in November of 2005 – all in the same room – at the same time – quite remarkable. But it was not just the honor of shaking hands with Joe Marm, Ed “Too Tall” Freeman, and Bruce Crandall that was unexpected. What I saw in the eyes of these three extraordinary men changed my life forever.
Recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor were virtually ignored by our country for well over a century. It was not until 1999 that these thirty-four hundred-plus heroes were finally brought into the national limelight. In 1998, John Hodowal, then chairman of the Indianapolis, Indiana-based energy company IPALCO Enterprises, read a New York Times article about the annual meeting of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The article described the heroic deeds of those who had earned our nation’s highest honor.
John was so moved by their stories that he approached IPALCO for help in finding a way to formally recognize these outstanding individuals. To everyone’s amazement, the research indicated that few Americans knew of this elite group’s sacrifices. There was not even a memorial to acknowledge them or their acts of heroism.
Time to correct a national wrong
Not only would John and his company bring the medal’s recipients to Indianapolis for recognition, but they would build them a memorial.
The Medal of Honor Memorial, in Indianapolis, was completed in 1999, with ninety-six Medal of Honor recipients present. The memorial consists of twenty-seven curved blue/green plate glass panels, each between seven and ten-feet tall. The panels display fifteen conflicts, dating back to the Civil War. Three other states quickly followed suit with their own memorials: Riverside, California; Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina; and Pueblo, Colorado.
I live in Indianapolis, and visited the memorial to see where “my” three recipients were listed. As I walked toward the glass panels of names, I thought about the good old Iowa boy who started this medal business back in 1861.
The Medal of Honor
Iowa Senator James Grimes’s bill of 1861was drafted to encourage efficiency in the Navy. Medals were to be awarded to those who distinguished themselves by showing gallantry in action and other “seamanlike qualities.” Signed by President Lincoln, the bill authorized the production and distribution of these new Navy “medals of honor.”
In 1862, Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson authorized a similar bill for the Army. Its Medal of Honor would be awarded to privates who distinguished themselves in battle. Lincoln authorized two thousand Medals of Honor to “be presented, in the name of the Congress, to such non-commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities.” (The United States Air Force would receive legislative authority for its own Air Force Medal of Honor in 1956.)
Walking through our paneled memorial, I wondered if the Congress of 1862 knew that the military recognition it sanctioned to promote efficiency would become the most elite award for bravery in our nation’s history.
The criteria for receiving the medal have not always been what it is today. It began its first evolution after the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, with a new standard that included conduct beyond the normal discharge of duty.
In 1897, President McKinley added the requirement for eyewitnesses. President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 Executive Order required that the medal be awarded in a “formal and impressive ceremony,” presented by the President as Commander-in-Chief, or the designee of the President, with one exception made for campaigns.
In that instance, the division or higher commander could then present the medal. It was not until 1915 that the award, originally designed for enlisted personnel, was extended to officers. The Congress of 1918 seemed to sense some of the medal’s future, passing an act stipulating that only the Medal of Honor could be presented in the name of Congress, and that no person could receive more than one.
The Medal of Honor itself also inspired the creation of two separate associations. Recipients from the Civil War and Indian War Campaign organized themselves in 1890 as “The Medal of Honor Legion.” The group changed its name in 1933 to “The Army and Navy Legion of Valor,” and once again in 1961 as the “Legion of Valor of the United States of America, Inc.”
The early and continuing prestige attached to the Medal of Honor brought on a strong desire in some to promote the ideals represented by the medal itself: patriotism and love of country. In 1946, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society was formed to protect and preserve the dignity of the medal, and aid its recipients, spouses, and children.
Few changes, though, have been made to the appearance of the medal. Currently, though varying in design, the Medals of Honor from all branches of service (Army, Navy/Marines/Coast Guard, and Air Force) display the medal suspended below a neck ribbon.
My three guys
Pausing at the Vietnam War panel, I stared at the names of “my” three guys. Joe Marm was awarded his medal in 1967. Ed “Too Tall” Freeman received his in 2001. Back in 2005, Bruce Crandall’s nomination was still under review. He finally received his medal in 2007. “Too Tall” died in August of 2008.
Every day at dusk, our memorial plays a thirty-minute recording of the stories of the individual acts of heroism carried out by the medal recipients. Most of the stories were recorded by the recipients themselves.
But I already knew the stories of “my” three. I had learned what took place during those horrific days of November 14 through 17, 1965, in the Ia Drang Valley, in South Vietnam. One of “my” men would save lives not only in the valley, but way above and beyond Vietnam, right into a small town in the eastern part of Iowa. One of the many other lives he saved that day was my own.
Web sites and locations of Medal of Honor Memorials
Indianapolis, Indiana: www.medalofhonormemorial.com/
Riverside, California: www.rncsc.org/
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: www.patriotspoint.org/exhibits/medal_honor/
Pueblo, Colorado: www.pueblomohfoundation.com/
Legion of Valor History: www.legionofvalor.com/history.php
Preserving the History of the Recipients of the Medal of Honor: www.homeofheroes.com
Height of Valor — Vietnam casualties who earned our country’s highest military honors:
This index is dedicated to those who earned our nation’s highest awards for valor in combat — the Medal of Honor, the appropriate Service Cross, and the Silver Star Medal. The names shown here are links to personal memorial pages on The Virtual Wall in honor of the men who earned the award and lost their lives in the Vietnam War.