WASHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service today dedicated the World War II Medal of Honor Forever stamps — paying tribute on Veterans’ Day and everyday going forward to the 464 American veterans who received the nation’s highest military honor for going above and beyond the call of duty during the Second World War.
The dedication took place at the National World War II Memorial where two of the eight living World War II recipients of the nation’s highest military honor joined in the dedication as part of a ceremony conducted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial.
Available today as a set of 20 stamps, customers may purchase the Medal of Honor: World War II Prestige Folio Forever stamps at usps.com/stamps, at 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), at Post Offices nationwide or at ebay.com/stamps.
“Our challenge as a nation is to never forget the sacrifices all of these individuals made on our behalf,” said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in dedicating the stamps. “We hope these new Medal of Honor Forever stamps will provide everyone with one more way to preserve our veterans’ stories for future generations. I urge you to use these stamps and mail them around the nation and the world. Save them for your children and grandchildren. Let them serve as small reminders of the giant sacrifices made by the heroes of World War II.”
Joining Donahoe in dedicating the stamps were World War II Medal of Honor recipients Army Master Sergeant Wilburn Ross of Dupont, WA; Army Private and retired postal employee George Sakato of Denver, CO; widow of Army Second Lieutenant/Senator Daniel Inouye, Irene Hirano Inouye of Honolulu, HI; past President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society/Marine Corps retired Colonel and Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient Harvey “Barney” Barnum; Chairman, Friends of the National World War II Memorial/retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Claude Mick Kicklighter; Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley; and National Park Service National Mall and Memorial Parks Superintendent Robert Vogel.
Recounting his experience near heavily defended Hill 617 near Biffontaine, France in October 1944, Sakato recalled saying to himself, “What the hell? Why?” Sakato continued, “When he died, I got so mad, I cried and ran up that hill. I don’t know where I got the energy to do that.”
In his single assault, Sakato killed 12 and personally captured four enemy soldiers. His unit, inspired by his bravery, followed him to capture 34 prisoners. Sakato was recommended for the Medal of Honor but was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC).Fifty five years later, in 2000, his award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
“I didn't think I did the heroics credited to me. I was just mad out of my mind when I charged up the hill. I thought I might die, but I was going to die trying.To be part of this stamp dedication is humbling,” said Sakato. “I share this honor with all the other brave men and women who sacrificed.”
That same month, near St. Jacques, France, after his company lost all but three of its men while fighting a company of elite German mountain troops, Wilburn Ross positioned his light machine gun in front of his riflemen and began firing to absorb the enemy’s attack. He killed or wounded 58 Germans in more than five hours of continuous combat and saved the surviving remnants of his company. He remained at his post for 36 hours.
“I did what I was supposed to do without thinking,” the soft spoken Ross said. “I didn’t think much about what the medal meant to me then, but now it means a lot. I’m grateful to be associated with members of the Medal of Honor Society. They are all selfless individuals who serve as role models to the community. These stamps will help tell their story.”
World War II Medal of Honor Forever Stamps
The first side of this four-page design highlights historical photographs of the last living recipients of the Medal of Honor from World War II. One stamp features a photograph of the Navy version of the Medal of Honor. The other stamp features a photograph of the Army version of the Medal of Honor. The Air Force version was not created until 1965. The two center pages list the names of all 464 recipients of the Medal of Honor from World War II. A short piece of text and a key to the names of the recipients pictured in the cover photos are included on the second page. The remaining 18 stamps are found on the back page. Art director Antonio Alcala of Alexandria, Va., designed the stamps and the new format, working with photographs of the medals by Richard Frasier of Vienna, VA.
More than 16 million Americans served in the armed forces during World War II; 464 were singled out to receive the Medal of Honor. Of that number, nearly half died as a result of their heroic actions and received the honor posthumously. The Postal Service is issuing the stamps depicting the Medals of Honor and including photographs of the living recipients on the stamp sheet as an appropriate way to recognize the living while still paying respect to all 464 recipients whose names are included in the prestige folio. Twelve recipients were alive when the Postal Service approached them to have their photographs included. Today, only 8 remain.
Pictured above (clockwise from upper left) are Charles H. Coolidge of Chattanooga, TN (video); Francis S. Currey of Selkirk, NY; Walter D. Ehlers of Buena Park, CA (video); John D. Hawk of Bremerton, WA (video); Daniel K. Inouye of Honolulu, HI; Arthur J. Jackson of Boise, ID (video); Robert D. Maxwell of Bend, OR (video); Vernon McGarity of Memphis, TN; Nicholas Oresko of Cresskill, NJ (video); Wilburn K. Ross of Dupont, WA; retired postal employee George T. Sakato of Denver, CO (video), and Hershel W. Williams of Ona, WV (video).
Sadly, Senator Daniel K. Inouye and Vernon McGarity died before the stamps could be issued, as did Nicholas Oresko, who died after the stamps were printed. John Hawk died only a week ago on Nov. 4. Their photographs are still included, as they remain among the last representatives of a remarkable group whose courage and devotion we honor with this issuance.
The Nation’s Highest Award for Valor in Combat
The Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat, is presented “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.”
The idea for the Medal of Honor was conceived during the first year of the Civil War. Individuals were fighting for their country, yet the nation had no formal system for recognizing or rewarding acts of heroism. Then a senator from Iowa, James W. Grimes, introduced a bill to “promote the efficiency of the Navy” by distributing “medals of honor.” President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law Dec. 21, 1861. Lincoln signed a similar measure on behalf of the U.S. Army July 12, 1862, and the country had two Medals of Honor: one for sailors, and one for soldiers. By the time the Civil War ended, 1,525 medals had been awarded, including one to Army surgeon Mary Walker, the only woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor.
Because it was the country’s only military medal, the Medal of Honor was awarded more freely at first. But after World War I broke out, the Army and Navy created a series of new decorations to recognize different degrees of accomplishment, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Citation Star, later replaced by the Silver Star. As a result, only 124 Medals of Honor were awarded for service in World War I.
There are three similar, yet distinct, versions of the Medal of Honor, one for each military department (Army, Navy and Air Force). The medals are similar in that each consists of a variation of a five-pointed star worn around the neck on a light blue ribbon. The Navy version is awarded to those serving in the Navy and Marine Corps, and during times of war, to members of the Coast Guard. Although not required by any military regulation, according to tradition and the nature of the award, even a four-star general will salute a private who wears the Medal of Honor. Visit the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website for information on all Medal of Honor recipients.
Ordering First-Day-of-Issue Postmarks
Customers have 60 days to obtain the first-day-of-issue postmark by mail. They may purchase new stamps at local Post Offices, at usps.com/stamps, or by calling 800-STAMP-24.