Monday, October 11, 2010

Sailors Cited as Navy's 'Lifeblood' During 235th Birthday Celebration

By Joy Samsel, Naval Education and Training Command Public Affairs

PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- More than 750 military and local civic leaders filled the Blue Angel atrium at the National Museum of Naval Aviation aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Oct. 8, to celebrate the U.S. Navy's 235th birthday.

"Though more than 200 years have passed, the vital work of our Navy remains the same as when this republic was founded; to protect the shores of our nation and preserve the open seas," said Rear Adm. Joseph Kilkenny, commander, Naval Education and Training Command. "Our Sailors are the lifeblood of the most powerful Navy in the world. They are the sons and daughters of liberty and are the heirs of a proud legacy."

The event was coordinated by staff at the Naval Aviation Schools Command, and included a historical presentation of six Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH) recipients from World War II, Vietnam and the conflict in Iraq, represented by area Sailors and Marines in period uniforms from the museum's archives.

The historical presentation concluded by introducing two CMH recipients attending the ball. The medal is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force, and is generally presented by the president of the United States of America in the name of Congress.

According to his award citation, retired Army Sgt. Robert Patterson received the commendation for "his dauntless courage and heroism" during an assault against a heavily fortified enemy position May 6, 1968.

While his squad was pinned down by heavy enemy weapons fire, Patterson single-handedly destroyed five enemy bunkers, killed eight enemy soldiers and captured seven weapons. He inspired his platoon to resume the attack and to penetrate the enemy defensive position.

Also attending the ball was Michael Thornton, a retired Navy SEAL petty officer.

During an Oct. 31, 1972 intelligence gathering operation, Thornton was with a U.S. Navy lieutenant and a SEAL patrol that came under heavy fire from a larger enemy force. The lieutenant was seriously wounded, but Thornton fought his way to his position and carried him to a beach. Thornton inflated the lieutenant's life vest and towed him out to sea, keeping them both afloat for two hours before being rescued.

"At a time when our nation is at war, and when morals and ethics are needed most, our youth, and indeed our entire nation, could use some heroes," Kilkenny said. "Well, we have them. All we have to do is look."

During his comments, Kilkenny also remarked on the only female CMH recipient.

"The courage to step forward when others are in need is not a trait held only by men in uniform," Kilkenny said. "One of the earliest Medal of Honor recipients was Dr. Mary Walker, a civil service employee."

Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical School in 1855, and when the Civil War broke out, she tried to join the Union Army. She was denied a commission as a medical officer, but she volunteered anyway, serving as an acting assistant surgeon.

She worked as a field surgeon near the Union front lines for almost two years. She treated patients in Fredericksburg, Va. and Chattanooga, Tenn., after the Battle of Chickamauga. In April 1864, she was captured by Confederate troops and spent four months in various prisons until she was exchanged for a Confederate surgeon in August 1864.

In 1866 President Andrew Johnson presented Walker with the Medal of Honor.

"The men and women who serve our military today carry on the traditions that were strengthened by those who earned our nation's highest honor," Kilkenny said. "By honoring our true heroes, and highlighting their character, spirit, and courage we can give our country strong and positive role models in which to believe."

This article was sponsored by Police Books.

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