Mar 25 2022
Sarah Bahari | The Dallas Morning News
A thick fog shrouded enemy territory in Vietnam.
Reports of wounded American soldiers, lying fewer than 200 feet from enemy soldiers, poured in. Two helicopters, trying to rescue the soldiers, had already been shot down. Others tried, unable to penetrate the fog.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady, who once described himself a reluctant soldier, volunteered for the mission. As he approached the site, he tilted his helicopter sideways to blow fog away with the rotor blade.
It worked. Brady returned to the site four times to rescue fellow soldiers. In total, he flew three different helicopters to rescue 51 men that day in 1968. By the end of the day, the helicopters were riddled with more than 400 bullet holes.
President Richard Nixon awarded Brady with the National Medal of Honor for his heroism. Brady’s story, along with hundreds of others, will now have a permanent home at the National Medal of Honor Museum, which broke ground Friday morning in Arlington.
The museum is expected to open in 2024.
“Fear is an emotion,” Brady told those in attendance. “Courage is a decision.”
The museum — the first of its kind in the U.S. — will share stories of the more than 3,500 recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.
Beneath a white tent, former President George W. Bush, CNN’s Jake Tapper, who moderated the event, and even actor and Texan Matthew McConaughey, who provided voice-overs for several videos, hailed the museum as a long-overdue project that will serve as both a national inspiration and vault for the nation’s history and shared values.
Bush called presenting the Medal of Honor one of the great privileges of serving as Commander in Chief.
“You’re looking at someone with integrity, fortitude and patriotism. You’re looking at honor,” Bush said at the event. “These values must be preserved, protected and passed on to future generations.”
Medal of Honor recipients come from every state in the U.S., and more than 700 are immigrants.
Of the recipients, 66 are living. Fifteen attended Friday’s groundbreaking, representing World War II and the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Entering the tent, they received a standing ovation.
Among them was Army Capt. Florent Groberg, who moved to the U.S. from France as a child.
While serving in Afghanistan in 2012, Groberg tackled a suicide bomber during a patrol mission. The man detonated his vest, sending Groberg flying 20 feet. The soldier suffered significant nerve damage in one leg, a burst eardrum and a mild traumatic brain injury.
Three U.S. military personnel died in the attack. Groberg wears a bracelet inscribed with their names.
“None of us tried to earn a medal. We were just doing our jobs,” said Groberg, who lives in Frisco. “Most of us lost friends, and that’s something we live with.”
The museum also will share the story of Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who in 2010 became the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War.
In 2007, Giunta’s platoon was ambushed by well-armed insurgents in Afghanistan. When his squad leader was injured, Giunta charged through enemy fire to move him to safety and administer aid.
Moments later, Giunta saw two insurgents dragging a wounded U.S. soldier away. Again, he pushed forward, killing one insurgent and wounding another, then began to provide medical aid to the American soldier.
“There were more bullets in the air than stars in the sky. A wall of bullets at every one at the same time with one crack and then a million other cracks afterwards,” Giunta told Vanity Fair in 2010. “They’re above you, in front of you, behind you, below you. They’re hitting in the dirt early. They’re going over your head. Just all over the place. They were close — as close as I’ve ever seen.”
The museum will not only share those stories, but also showcase artifacts, including old letters, uniforms and weapons. It will include an education center that aims to develop character in young people.
“Young people can learn they can be heroes,” Army Maj. Brady said, “and they don’t have to go to war to do it.”
Arlington was selected for the museum in 2019 after a nationwide search. Since then, the museum’s foundation has picked up big donations, including $20 million from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, as well as numerous private and corporate donors.
Before shoveling the ceremonial dirt, Tapper said that dirt represents much more.
“The grounds of battle are made hallowed by the blood and sweat poured out into the dirt,” Tapper said. “And the grounds are marked by the sacred tears of parents and grandparents praying for a hero’s safe return.”