Every 4th of July, we celebrate the birth of our country and the freedom we have living in the greatest nation on Earth. It is a day of pride, of family and of fun. We BBQ and we parade, we watch fireworks and we spend time with friends. It is a wonderful day that we should enjoy as much as possible.
In America, we have something called the Medal of Honor. It is a military award that is only given to the people that went above and beyond reasonable expectations of bravery to achieve something truly heroic. Here is a list of 10 of our greatest American heroes. On this 4th of July, take one of these stories and tell it to your buddies over the grill, or while waiting for the fireworks.
In no particular order:
1. Captain John P. Cromwell - Navy - WW2
Captain Cromwell was a senior leader of the Navy's submarine efforts during WW2. He was privy to vital information that could not fall into the enemy's hands. When it became clear he was going to be captured by an axis vessel, which would mean subjection to torture and drugs to induce him to tell US secrets, he did the unthinkable. Captain Cromwell sunk his own submarine rather than be captured. Like the others on this list, at crunch time when there was an easier way out, they took the hard road to protect our freedom.
2. Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone - Marine Corps - WW2
John Basilone, a local hero from Raritan, NJ, was the only enlisted man in WW2 to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. At the Battle for Henderson Field at Guadalcanal, Basilone manned 2 heavy machine gun sections as 3000 Japanese attacked. He held his position for 3 days and nights without sleep, rest, or food. When he ran out of ammunition, he fought through contested ground to resupply his guns. At one point, totally out of proper ammunition, he fought off the Japanese with his .45 pistol. For this, he won the Medal of Honor. The government wanted to keep him out of the fighting after that, but he demanded to be returned to his unit. Shortly after returning, he died fighting at Iwo Jima, where he posthumously won the Navy Cross.
3. Rear Admiral Richard Antrim - Navy - WW2
After being wounded in the Battle of the Java Sea, Antrim ensured that all of his men boarded life rafts before their destroyer Pope could sink. As a prisoner of war in April 1942, he intervened in the brutal beating of another American POW at the risk of his own life, offering to take the remainder of the punishment after the solider had been beaten and kicked unconscious by a group of fanatic Japanese guards. Assigned to duty building trenches as a punishment, Antrim altered the Japanese work plans and dug in a pattern recognizable from the air as a giant US, ensuring that the POW camp would not be mistakenly bombed by Allied planes. He was not only brave, but resourceful and a consummate leader during the war.
4. Army Sergeant First Class Eduardo Gomez - Korea
Seargeant Gomez's family received his Medal of Honor from President Obama in 2014. Unfortunately, he did not receive it at the time because of his heritage. I am so glad he was finally recognized for his undeniable bravery.
Sergeant Gomez' company was ruthlessly attacked by a hostile force. An enemy tank and multiple enemy machineguns continued to rake the company perimeter with devastating fire. Realizing the tank posed a serious threat to the entire perimeter, Sergeant Gomez voluntarily crawled thirty yards across an open rice field vulnerable to enemy observation and fire, boarded the tank, pried open one of the hatches on the turret and dropped an activated grenade into the hull, killing the crew. He was wounded, but fought on, finding a machine gun and firing it past the point of overheating. It burned through his hands but he kept firing, refusing medial attention, until a new defensive position was established.
5. LCdr. Ernest Evans - Navy - WW2
In his own words: "A large Japanese fleet has been contacted. They are fifteen miles away and headed in our direction. They are believed to have four battleships, eight cruisers, and a number of destroyers. This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can." The sailed in, fought gallantly, and ultimately, few survived.
6. Private Billie G. Kanell - Army - Korea
Billie shows that rank has absolutely nothing to do with bravery. A grenade was thrown into his area and he jumped onto it to save his friends, fully expecting to be killed. Miraculously, he survived, but was in terrible pain. Another grenade was thrown into his area just minutes later, and without hesitating and totally aware of the pain that was coming, he jumped onto a second grenade to save his friends. This was too much, and he was killed. 2 grenades.
7. Corporal Tony Stein--Army -- WWII
During the Battle of Iwo Jima, he stood up and ran towards enemy fire to attract it towards himself and away from his fallen comrades. He took off his helmet and boots and ran down to the beach only to rearm himself and continue fighting. After doing so eight times, he managed to destroy fourteen enemy installations. Think of the bravery in running intentionally out into enemy fire, never knowing if you would make it even 5 feet, let alone the length of a beach.
8. 1st LT. William Hawkins - Marine Corps - WW2
At the battle of Tarawa, Hawkins led the attack on pill boxes (heavily defended enemy positions on the island). He was able to destroy 6 before being seriously wounded. But, still, he stayed in the fighting, destroying 3 more before being mortally wounded. Clearing these defensive positions was one of the most dangerous jobs in the war, and it was something he continuously volunteered for. He saved countless lives through his bravery.
9. Lt. Col Thomas Custer - Army -C ivil War
Although his older brother is the more famous Custer, Thomas actually has the distinction of being one of the only Americans to ever win two Medals of Honor (a feat which can no longer be accomplished). By the age of 20, he had already won the award twice for charging into enemy fire on horseback, leaping barricades, and winning the day.
10. General Galusha Pennypacker - Army - Civil War
Many heroes dot the pages of our history from 1860 through 1877. This Union officer is symbolic of so many of them who made sterling contributions to our country. Though celebrated in their day, their legacies, by and by, became lost in the river of time. Pennypacker, born at Valley Forge in 1844, is the youngest American ever to be given a general's star in the US military. (Lafayette -- a Frenchman -- is the youngest soldier to be made a US army general. He was 19). Early in 1865 he led a brigade in a frontal assault on Fort Fisher. Leading from the front and bearing the colors, he was hit badly but refused evacuation from the field until the flag had been planted on the objective by his hand. Doctors said he would not survive his wounds so General Grant brevetted him to the rank of brigadier general at the age of 20. He thus became the only American general officer in our history that was not old enough to vote for his commander in chief. He survived his wounds and served in the US Army until 1883 and is buried in Philly where Pennypacker Park is named for him.