KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Some of America's bravest warriors are promoting a character development program for the nation's schools. But it's not about combat. It's about citizenship.
Cedar Bluff Middle School is the first school in the nation to be recognized for its implementation of the program, developed by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, designed to encourage good citizenship and community responsibility.
In ceremonies Tuesday, Bruce P. Crandall, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in the Vietnam War, presented the school with a special flag bearing images of the medal.
The society's Medal of Honor Character Development program, put together by educators, emphasizes that things such as courage, patriotism and citizenship can be displayed in nonmilitary ways as well as military service. Teachers at Cedar Bluff Middle found ways to work the content into every class and subject matter, said principal Christine Oehler.
"We feel this is a great opportunity to combine academic and character development," Oehler said.
The school's approach "can serve as a model for the rest of the country," said Crandall, who also is speaking today at the University of Tennessee's University Center.
"Those of us who were in the military know that most citizens of today will not serve in the military," Crandall said. "Service to the community is one of the most important things anyone can do to serve their country."
The program also serves to remind students that "they owe service back to the community to help make it a better place," he said.
Courage and commitment can be displayed in many areas besides military service, Crandall said. "It can take courage to say yes when that is the right answer, and no when that is the right answer," he said.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society is scheduled to hold its 2014 national convention in Knoxville.
Crandall, a helicopter pilot, was awarded the medal belatedly in 2007, for 22 flights under heavy fire in 14 hours during the 1965 battle of Drang Valley, the first major engagement between American troops and the North Vietnamese regular army.
Crandall brought ammo and supplies to beleaguered troops and evacuated wounded soldiers. He flew three different unarmed helicopters, because the first two were so badly damaged from enemy fire.
The battle and Crandall's efforts were featured in the book "We Were Soldiers Once, and Young" as well as a movie based on the book. Mel Gibson starred in the film. Crandall was portrayed by actor Greg Kinnear.
And Crandall, it turns out, is as much a wit as a warrior.
A couple of times on Tuesday, he announced that besides the Medal of Honor, "I've got a Good Conduct Medal."
Then he flipped the lapel of his jacket to show it.
A reporter asked him if he was so proud of the Good Conduct Medal, why he concealed it under his jacket lapel.
"I never said I earned it," Crandall said.