Medal of Honor recipients to honor Newtown's Sandy Hook victims
By MARK ZARETSKY | New Haven Register, Conn. | Published: May 2, 2013
NEWTOWN, Conn. — When the Congressional Medal of Honor Society comes to town Monday to honor as heroes the six women who sacrificed their lives on Dec. 14 trying to protect the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School, there will be plenty of hardware in the room.
There also will be plenty of understanding of what it takes to be a hero.
No fewer than four recipients of the nation’s highest military honor will be there at Newtown High School to present the six educators posthumously with the society’s highest civilian honor — each with a keen understanding of what it means to put your life on the line to save others.
They’ll come from as nearby as Ridgefield and as far away as Arizona and Washington state. All are Vietnam veterans.
In a special ceremony that the Congressional Medal of Honor Society said is a first, four recipients of the Medal of Honor will come to town to present the society’s highest civilian award, the Citizen Honors Medal, posthumously to the six Sandy Hook staff members who gave their lives.
Family members will accept the Citizen Service Before Self Honors (Citizen Honors) Medals on behalf of the late Rachel D’Avino, principal Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach and Victoria Soto.
So who are these guys who will present the awards?
They’re all people who — just like the six adults who died on Dec. 14 — rose to the occasion when they most needed to.
Medal of Honor recipient Paul W. Bucha of Ridgefield, as a U.S. Army captain, single-handedly destroyed a bunker near Phuoc Vinh, South Vietnam with grenades in 1968 and, despite being wounded, directed “an unparalleled defense, ultimately decimating the numerically superior enemy force,” the society said in a written release.
Medal of Honor recipient Bruce P. Crandall of Washington state, as an Army major, flew his helicopter into a battle near Ia Drang Valley, South Vietnam — under heavy fire — 22 times in 1965, delivering soldiers and fresh ammunition and evacuating the wounded. That inspired other pilots to do the same and emboldened the ground forces, the society said.
Medal of Honor recipient Jack H. Jacobs of Far Hills, N.J., as an Army first lieutenant in Kien Phong Province, South Vietnam in 1968, directed air strikes on enemy positions.
But when intense fire and heavy casualties disorganized friendly troops, Jacobs – though badly wounded and with his vision impaired – assumed command, ordered a regrouping of forces, then evacuated a seriously wounded adviser and administered lifesaving first aid. “He then made repeated trips across the fire-swept open rice paddies evacuating the wounded and their weapons, simultaneously encountering and driving off enemy squads, single-handedly killing three and wounding several other enemy soldiers,” the society said.
Medal of Honor recipient Thomas G. Kelley of Boston, as a U.S. Navy lieutenant conducted an extraction mission along the bank of the Ong Muong Canal in Kien Hoa province, South Vietnam in 1969, took charge when a loading ramp failed on one of eight river-assault craft.
As enemy forces began firing, he ordered the remaining boats to form a protective cordon around the disabled craft, then maneuvered his own craft to the exposed side of the cordon and opened fire on the enemy, continuing to direct the other boats despite being seriously wounded by an enemy rocket, the society said.
The ceremony — the first time the Society has traveled directly to a community to present such awards — will be at Newtown High School, 12 Berkshire Rd., at 4:30 p.m., the society said in a written release.
The Medal of Honor recipients also will present the society’s Certificate of Commendation to all of the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook School, who the society said acted courageously during the tragedy.
“Many teachers and staff members disregarded their own safety that day to hide and protect the children in their care,” said Harold A. Fritz, president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. “Those acts of courage, sacrifice, and selflessness are the very same traits identified with the Medal of Honor; only they were demonstrated at a critical moment in hometown USA, not on a battlefield far from home.
“Recognizing these ordinary Americans who performed extraordinary acts at home is the very reason for our Citizen Honors program,” said Fritz, 69, of Peoria, Ill.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society each year takes nominations for hometown citizen heroes. There were dozens of nominations for the teachers and staff from the Sandy Hook school following the December 14th mass shootings at the school, the society said.
Four other Citizen Honorees were awarded medals at Arlington National Cemetery on March 25, Medal of Honor Day — coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the first awarding of the Medal of Honor.
But the society decided the Sandy Hook heroes should be recognized separately with a special ceremony in Newtown, the release said.