Congressional Medal of Honor Convention


By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: Oct. 1, 2011
Location: Washington, DC

Thank you, Captain Hudner for that very kind introduction, and for your extraordinary service to our nation.

I'd also like to thank the two co-chairs of this evening's event, General Berthold and Connie Clark; Mayor Fischer and Sheriff Aubrey for all their support; and our sponsors, for supporting the patriotic work of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society not only tonight but throughout the year.

Most importantly, though, I want to thank all the members of the military and their families -- past and present -- who are with us tonight, for their many, many sacrifices on behalf of our nation.

Thank you for this rather humbling honor.

I have to say, it's a little embarrassing to be recognized by a group of men who have themselves earned the highest honor our nation can give for military valor.

But I'm glad to accept it, if I may do so, in the name of all the many men and women from Kentucky who are currently serving our nation overseas.

To paraphrase a sentiment many of you have expressed about your fellow servicemen over the years, they are the patriots, not me. So on behalf of them, thank you.

As others have noted, it's quite appropriate that we should mark the sesquicentennial of the Medal of Honor in the home state of our nation's 16th President, and not only because he signed the bill that created it into law. Even more important than that, in my view, is the fact that Lincoln, like so many of those who've earned this medal over the years, didn't exactly seem destined for the greatness he'd later achieve in life.

After all, few people would have wagered that a Kentucky farm boy whose father couldn't even sign his own name would one day be credited with saving the union, in large part, through the power of his words.

And so too did few imagine, nearly a century and a half later, that another Kentucky farm boy named Dakota Meyer would perform the astonishing feats for which he was recently honored at the White House.

Yet it is just this kind of unexpected heroism that has always set our nation and our military apart, from Yorktown and Valley Forge to Ar Ramadi and the Korengal Valley, and in countless battles in between.

Indeed, of all the things we've learned about your Society's newest member in the past few weeks, one of the most telling, I think, is how Sergeant Mayer came to join the Marines in the first place.

The story goes that Dakota was walking through the cafeteria at Green County High School one day when he noticed a Marine recruiter sitting at one of the tables. After a brief chat, Dakota told the man that after high school he hoped to play college football.

"That's good," the recruiter replied, "because there's no way you could become a Marine."

At that, Dakota walked away. But a few minutes later he was back, ready to enlist.

That Marine recruiter gave Dakota something important that day: he gave him an ideal. He challenged him to look at himself in a way that he hadn't before. And that's one of the reasons your society is so important.

It's also well documented that many of you did not necessarily welcome the attention that came with the medal -- that, in your view, you were only doing your job. But there's another way to look at it.

In accepting this medal, you didn't just receive an honor from your countrymen.

You gave something to your countrymen. You gave us the permanent gift of your example.

Two weeks ago, millions of Americans from all walks of life stopped everything they were doing to hear Dakota's story. And they asked themselves a difficult but important question: What would I have done?

Ladies and Gentlemen, America needs legislative reforms. It needs to get its fiscal house in order. It needs good statesmen. It needs all these things. But more than anything else, it needs heroes. It needs living examples of men and women who have shown that they are willing to lay down their lives for others.

That example is how we'll ensure our nation's survival and success in the world.

And so thank I thank again for this honor, but above all, for carrying that necessary burden.

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