The North Dakota State Fair Center - Minot, ND
Military leaders, past and present, were in Minot, North Dakota, for a special Visions of Valor exhibit preview at the ND State Fair Center on July 4, 2007. Major General Michael Haugen, USAF (Ret), the format Adjutant General of North Dakota, welcomed guests and served as Master of Ceremonies.
Cindy Fischer, former TRICARE Program Coordinator of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, explained that Vision of Valor was a natural fit in North Dakota; in history, the state has had more Medal of Honor recipients, per capita, than any other state (18). One of those honored individuals, Michael Fitzmaurice, who was born in the state but now makes his home in South Dakota, was TriWest's special guest at the ceremony.
In Khesanh, Vietnam, in March 1971, Specialist Fourth Class Fitzmaurice and three fellow soldiers were occupying a bunker when a company of North Vietnamese infiltrated the area and threw three explosive charges into the bunker. Realizing the imminent danger to his comrades, and with complete disregard for his personal safety, Fitzmaurice hurled two of the charges out of the bunker, then threw his flak vest and himself over the remaining charge, absorbing the blast and shielding his fellow soldiers. Although suffering from serious multiple wounds and partial loss of sight, he charged out of the bunker, inflicting further casualties on the enemy. Though seriously wounded, Fitzmaurice refused to be medically evacuated, preferring to remain at his post. Fitzmaurice's extraordinary heroism in action at the risk of his life contributed significantly to the successful defense of the position and resulted in saving the lives of a number of his fellow soldiers.
— T. Singh, Lodi, CA
To commemorate North Dakota's Medal of Honor history, a committee of private citizens (including many veterans) organized in 2001 to build a memorial in Minot to the state's 18 recipients in Minot. Committee chairman, Bill Kolb, spoke in the program and thanked the Minot community for its support of the project and in honoring our nation's Service members. After six years of fundraising, the Medal of Honor Memorial was unveiled at a special ceremony in Minot's Roosevelt Park following Visions of Valor.
Minot native Rear Admiral Michael H. Miller, USN, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Global Force Management and Joint Operations, spoke about the Navy's history with the Medal of Honor, and mentioned the oldest living recipient, John Finn, and his proud Navy service. Miller also spoke about Rear Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey, a WWII MOH recipient who passed away on June 28 at age 93.
Colonel Bruce Emig, 5th Bomb Wing Commander at Minot Air Force Base, told the stories of the two most recent Medal of Honor recipients, Army First Class Paul Smith and Marine Corporal Jason Dunham. Smith's and Dunham's Medals were presented posthumously, as both perished in Iraq.
Sergeant First Class Smith, in what was the last letter to his parents, wrote that he was prepared to give, as he said, "all that I am, to ensure that all my boys make it home." He also wrote of the "privilege to be given 25 of the finest Americans we call Soldiers to lead into war" and that he recognized their fears and his responsibilities for their welfare.
Corporal Dunham's Combined Anti-Armor Team was ambushed on its way to Camp Husaybah, Iraq. While searching vehicles for weapons, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham, releasing a hand grenade. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines.
Jason Dunham-whose birthday fell on November 10, the Marine Corps Birthday-- was only 22 years old when he gave his life for his country.
Former TriWest Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Ken Farmer, MD, concluded the program by thanking veterans for their service and wishing attendees a Happy Independence Day.
Visions of Valor remained in Minot through the conclusion of the State Fair on July 28.