Balboa Naval Medical Center - San Diego, CA
On a brisk, cloudless San Diego afternoon, inspiration flowed like sunshine.
The Navy's largest hospital, the Naval Medical Center, San Diego, situated in the picturesque Balboa district of this staunch Navy town, took a new place in Medal of Honor history.
Six of America's greatest heroes wearing the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest honor for gallantry under fire, gathered for the unveiling Tuesday of TriWest's Visions of Valor, a traveling photographic exhibit featuring dramatic portraits of surviving Medal of Honor recipients.
There was standing room only. About 125 people crowded together. But before the hour-long ceremony attended by military brass, dignitaries and influential politicians began, the Medal of Honor recipients visited with wounded Marines over lunch.
— Jeanne U.
"We're honored just to be around them," said retired Marine Corps Colonel Jay Vargas of San Diego. Vargas earned the Medal of Honor during an intense three-day battle in Vietnam by organizing strong defenses against a numerically superior force, placing himself in the line of enemy fire and crossing a fire-swept field to save the life of his wounded superior officer.
During the unveiling ceremony on the patio outside the hospital's quarterdeck, Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, put the event into perspective by defining the character of men whose selfless deeds under duress earned them the gratitude of a nation. "They are common, everyday Americans in every respect except that they stepped forward and did things that were so extraordinary that it's tough to comprehend them even 20 or 30 or 40 years later," Hunter said. To Hunter, the exhibit was a visible and valuable reminder. "This reminds us as Americans that freedom isn't free and unless we honor those who serve and protect us, we're not going to have that freedom," he said. "I think TriWest is really doing a great service to our country. As we go about our daily lives it's good for us to take a little stop and reflect that this freedom we have is only possible because of people like Medal of Honor recipients." Vargas echoed the significance of the exhibit that several people gathered for the event noted. "It's almost like the Vietnam traveling wall," he said. "This will preserve a little history for our citizenship," said former Marine Corps Colonel Robert Modrezejewski. He earned the Medal of Honor on a battlefield in Vietnam by crawling 200 meters despite his wounds to provide ammunition to his men and to direct artillery fire, aiming it dangerously close to his own position. "We thank you for the example you are to us and to the generations to come," said TriWest President and CEO, Dave McIntyre. "That's really what this is about."
In making the point that America's youth are searching for heroes, McIntyre used his children, ages, 3, 7, and 10, as examples. "I watch who they look at for their heroes and they struggle to find people in our popular culture that represent the values I think are important," he said. "I think we need to look no further than the gentlemen sitting here or those who we spent lunch with today to find heroes in our midst." "These men are really an inspiration," said Congresswoman Susan Davis, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Visions of Valor, she said, is "symbolic of our country," and that the portraits embody the spirit of America and the "pain and the pride" of the men who hold this honor.