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Gary Sinise Salutes America’s Medal of Honor Recipients

These humble heroes wear the medal not for themselves, but for those who did not make it home


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Gary with Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Davis.
Gary Sinise Foundation

I am always astounded by the capacity of ordinary citizens to perform extraordinary acts while under tremendous peril. This valiant, selfless bravery is emblematic of those who wear the Congressional Medal of Honor. These heroes help define what makes America such a great country.

The Medal of Honor is the highest and most prestigious award given by the United States for valor in combat. Over 41 million have served in our nation’s armed forces, but thus far just 3,517 individuals have received the prestigious Medal of Honor.

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These recipients embody the sacrifices of all our service members, the hallowed history of our armed forces and the cherished values that have shaped our proud nation. These heroes are people who never sought the limelight and instead insist they did nothing more than do their job. They wear the medal to honor their brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.

In the more than 160 years since Congress voted to make the medal a permanent designation, recipients from every corner of our nation, of every background, race, creed and walk of life have been awarded the Medal of Honor. They gave their heart, soul and often their life for their brothers in arms and for the cause of freedom during the Civil War, in the trenches of World War I, on land, and sea, and in the air during World War II, and on the battlefields of Korea. More recently, the acts of heroism have been in the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts and cities of Iraq and the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan.

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It has been a distinct privilege for me to have made lifelong friends among this group of remarkable people. I have been involved with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society since 2007 when I was presented with the Bob Hope Award for Excellence in Entertainment from the society for my decades of work in films, television and for supporting our veterans. A tremendous honor.

In 2020, I was humbled, and moved to the point of tears, to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor’s Patriot Award. It was Drew Dix who presented the award to me.

Drew received the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson on January 19, 1969. As a Staff Sergeant and Green Beret, he distinguished himself during the Tet Offensive the previous year when two heavily armed Viet Cong battalions attacked the Chau Doc provincial capital. He rescued numerous civilians and braved intense fire to eliminate at least 14 and possibly 25 more of the enemy and take 20 prisoners

In the decades since, Drew has never stopped giving back and today is the co-founder and board Chairman of the Center for American Values, a non-profit organization located in Pueblo, Colorado. He intends the center to be a resource for future generations to reflect on how doing the right thing for country, community, comrades and country will maintain America’s status as the light and hope of the world.

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Another great American I have been blessed to get to know over the years is Roger Donlon. He was both the first Green Beret to receive the Medal of Honor and its first recipient of the Vietnam War. As a captain in 1964, Roger led his 12-man Special Forces team and 300 South Vietnamese soldiers to successfully defend their camp during a two-day attack from well over 800 communist fighters. Roger served in uniform until 1988.

Again, imagine my surprise and pride to be honored with the inaugural Colonel Roger H.C. Donlon Patriot Award in 2019. To be mentioned in the same breath as a hero such as my friend Roger is a little bewildering and means more to me than I can say. Roger died last month aged 89 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. A great man and friend, and I will miss him.

And then there is Sammy Davis. As a Private First Class aged just 21, Sammy’s Davis’ artillery unit was hit by a massive enemy offensive near Cai Lay, Vietnam, in 1967. He resolved to face the onslaught and prepared to die. Sammy found three of his fellow GIs in a foxhole behind enemy lines. Two were severely wounded and one presumed dead. He carried them to a river and floated them to safety on an air mattress, one by one.

After finding a medic’s bag, Sammy tended to their wounds but omitted to treat his own. After loading his comrades onto a rescue helicopter, he collapsed and woke up in a hospital in Japan. He suffered a bullet in his thigh, a perforated kidney, a broken vertebra, crushed ribs, burns all over his body and flesh ripped open by beehive darts.

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In the movie “Forrest Gump,” in which Tom Hanks played the title character and I played Lt. Dan Taylor, the scene of Forrest receiving the Medal of Honor from President Johnson was created from the historical footage of Sammy’s actual ceremony on November 18, 1968.

And these are only three of the many recipients I have been blessed to know and befriend over the years. Each story is unique and remarkable, and I encourage you to go to the society website.

I have learned so much from these incredible patriots. They represent the very best of our nation and I am touched by their enduring commitment to the American values of courage, sacrifice, citizenship, integrity, commitment and patriotism the medal represents. My life has been enriched by the friendship of so many of them.

Every day, I am grateful that our country has such incredible, humble individuals who give so much of themselves for us. To Drew, Roger, Sammy and all of our Medal of Honor recipients, I simply say: Thank you for your courageous service. You did your job—and so much more.

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