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Medal of Honor recipients fly to east TN schools for visit

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kendra M Owenby
What does the price of freedom look like? Many East Tennessee residents got to see firsthand when 50 Medal of Honor recipients came to town for the 2014 Medal of Honor Convention in Knoxville Sept 10-13. The days were jam-packed with unforgettable events, stories, concerts, black-tie affairs, and dedication ceremonies to true American heroes.

One such memorable event was flying the Medal of Honor recipients to East Tennessee schools to speak to the students. Four Tennessee Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopters and one Knox County Sherriff's Department helicopter flew recipients to area schools on Sept 12.

At Greenville High School, a Blackhawk helicopter carrying Medal of Honor recipients 1st Lt. Brian Thacker and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Patterson landed in the grass adjacent to the school entrance. As the two exited the helicopter and made their way toward the auditorium, hundreds of students and faculty carrying American flags lined the path and cheered loudly. Uniformed Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps members stood at attention; an appropriate greeting for those who are held in such high honor.

From the auditorium podium the men spoke about their time in service and how being awarded the Medal of Honor has changed their lives forever.  The students were extremely excited for the opportunity to meet and ask them questions about their military service and sacrifices.

A jovial Patterson told of his time in Vietnam as a Specialist Four that led up to the events in which he earned the Medal of Honor. Lightheartedly he described himself as a young soldier who, in his words, "was just an old plow boy from North Carolina." Serving as a fire team leader, 3rd Platoon, Troop B, he single-handedly destroyed a series of enemy bunkers during a firefight all while under a hail of enemy gunfire, consequently saving the lives of his comrades.

When asked by one of the students what he did to earn the Medal, Patterson replied "I don't really recollect five hours of that day.  I am one of the lucky ones.  Some actually remember every detail but I don't."

1st Lt. Brian Thacker also spoke with the students about his service and how they wear the medal not for a display of their deeds but in honor of the fallen as well as for all of their comrades.

"The medal we wear is not a 'me' award, it's an 'us' award ," said Thacker. "When you read our citations you never read about the 'us' ... there was the us, and the troops that were with us ... behind each one of those troops were families back home in a community just like this one."

The two men were very humble and emphasized several times to the students that even though the individual is important, it is the team as a whole that is the key to success.

"Yes, be all you can be, but make all those around you all that they can be as well," said Thacker.

They also emphasized to the students that anything is possible if you want to do it; that not having the money for college is not a reason to not go.

"There are so many scholarships and grants out there," said Patterson. "You can go to college, you just have to want to."

Their words of encouragement and inspiration were eagerly received by the young faces, many of whom will become tomorrow's leaders.

The students waved as the rotors picked up and the Blackhawk lifted into the air carrying with it two of this nation's most highly decorated heroes ... faces of the price of freedom.