Museums Join Forces to Pay Tribute in Time for Memorial Day

NEW ORLEANS — In a joint event which may be the first of its kind, The National World War II Museum and the USS Midway Museum will honor the surviving World War II recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

    Entitled Beyond the Call of Duty, the gala evening will be held on the flight deck of the USS Midway in San Diego on May 24. 

    The USS Midway was the longest-serving U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in the 20th century. The National World War II Museum, located in New Orleans, has been designated by the United States Congress as the country’s official Museum of the Second World War. 
   
    The Medal of Honor citation reads “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of own life, above and beyond the call of duty.”  Of the more than 16 million American men and women who served in uniform during World War II, only 464 were awarded the nation’s highest award for valor in action against an enemy force. Thirty recipients are alive today.  Six of these Medal of Honor recipients will attend the San Diego event: 

    Vernon Baker, First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Company C, 370th Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division.
    A native of Wyoming, Baker was honored for his heroism in destroying enemy installations in mountainous terrain near Viareggio, Italy in May, 1945. His was the first African-American unit to go into combat in World War II.

Van R. Barfoot, Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division. 
    Barfoot, a Choctaw Indian from Mississippi, used his “tracking and leadership skills, fearless and aggressive determination, and valor in the face of pointblank fire” to inspire his fellow soldiers in the capture of a new position near Carano, Italy in 1944. Barfoot chose to receive his Medal of Honor in the field and is recognized as one of the most significant Native American heroes of World War II.

Walter D. Ehlers, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.
    Ehlers fought alongside his brother Roland through battles in North Africa and Sicily. Preparing for the Normandy invasion, the brothers were assigned to different companies. On D-Day, Walter pulled comrades off Omaha Beach and drew gunfire to himself to protect his squad members. Demonstrating tremendous courage and strength of spirit through wounded himself, Ehlers carried other wounded soldiers to safety.  He declines to be called a hero, stating that his brother is the true hero.  Roland Ehlers was killed when an enemy mortar hit his landing craft before landing on Omaha Beach.

John Finn, Lieutenant, U.S. Navy.
    The oldest living Medal of Honor recipient and the first to receive the award in World War II for bravery in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Finn was awarded the Medal of Honor by Admiral Chester Nimitz for his “magnificent courage in manning a machine gun in a completely exposed area.”  Although hit by shrapnel 21 times, Finn continued to fire on the enemy and single-handedly brought down a Japanese aircraft. 

Charles P. Murray, Jr., First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company C, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division.
    Murray was honored for his single-handed attack against an overwhelming German force near Kayserberg, France in December, 1944.  Although wounded, Murray’s courageous actions stopped a counter-attack and helped establish an advance position.  Following a two-week hospitalization, he rejoined his troops on the hill where he had left them.  When he received the Medal of Honor in ceremonies the following year, the entire 15,000-man 3rd Division paraded in tribute.

Hershel W. Williams, Corporal, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division.
    Following service in the invasion of Guam, “Woody” Williams landed on Iwo Jima to face ruthless and fanatical enemy resistance.  Inspired by the sight of the American flag raised over Mount Suribachi, Williams led his force with “unyielding determination and heroism in neutralizing enemy forces.” Only 17 of the 279 men who had hit the beach with Williams and his company survived. He considers himself the caretaker of the Medal of Honor for the Marines who did not come home from Iwo Jima. 

    These remarkable individuals will receive the most prestigious honor given by each of the two Museums: The National World War II Museum will present the American Spirit Award which recognizes the recipients’ unselfish contributions to community, state and nation, their leadership by example, and their demonstration of the highest standards of integrity, discipline and initiative. 

    Previous honorees included former President George H.W. Bush, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Senator Robert Dole, and The National World War II Museum’s founder, historian Stephen E. Ambrose, Ph.D. The USS Midway Museum will present the Midway American Patriot Award which annually honors individuals whose lifetime accomplishments epitomize the true meaning of patriotism, personal sacrifice, and selfless service to America.  Bob Hope was the award’s inaugural recipient in 2007.

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