There are three iconic American institutions that represent the values of valor, selflessness, compassion and altruism: the Congressional Medal of Honor Society; the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation; and the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. The top leaders of these three organizations never have had a meeting together.
SUCH A MEETING will take place in Augusta this Thursday afternoon, Jan. 9. Although the missions of these organizations are somewhat different, these leaders will share areas of common interest and look for ways they can support one another. But what are these institutions, and why should their work be of interest?
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission was established in 1904 by America’s most creative philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Its mission is a simple one: to recognize those who perform acts of heroism in civilian life in the United States and Canada, and to provide financial assistance to those disabled and the dependents of those killed helping others. To date, 9,663 Carnegie Medals (including 12 from the CSRA) have been awarded, and $35.4 million given in one-time grants, continuing assistance and scholarships.
On Aug. 5, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation sent to him by Congress chartering the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The purposes of the organization include the creation of a bond among all living medal recipients; maintaining memory of and respect for those who died receiving the medal as well as those who have died since receiving it; the protection of the dignity of the medal; protecting the medal’s name as well as its recipients from exploitation; providing aid to needy recipients and their dependents; promoting patriotism and allegiance to the U.S. government and Constitution; serving the U.S. in peace or war; the promotion of the principles upon which the United States was founded; and the fostering of patriotism to inspire youth to become worthy U.S. citizens.
Today there are only 77 living recipients of the Medal of Honor (eight from World War II, 10 from the Korean War, 53 from the war in Southeast Asia, and six from combat actions in Afghanistan). To be a member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, you must be a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
HOW AND WHY the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation was created is a fascinating story. In 1999, a wealthy, patriotic man, John Rangos, met a Medal of Honor recipient who was en route to make a speech for a fund-raiser. When asked who was paying for his expenses (travel and lodging) the recipient said that he was assuming all of them personally. Rangos thought it flat wrong that living recipients had to pay out of their own pockets as they traveled around the country in support of worthy causes.
The next day, Rangos created the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. Its mission: to perpetuate the Medal of Honor’s legacy through outreach and collaborative efforts; to raise funds for initiatives that promote what the medal represents and that support the operation of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society headquarters and the public service activities of the society’s exclusive membership. The foundation also seeks to promote the qualities of courage, sacrifice and patriotism through increased awareness, education, behavior and example.
It is fitting that the meeting of the leaders of these three organizations take place in Augusta, the home of the only person to have received both the Carnegie Medal and the Medal of Honor, Lt. Col. A. J. Dyess of the U.S. Marine Corps. Walter F. Rutkowski will represent the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. He will be joined by Medal of Honor recipient Hal Fritz, president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and Tom Wilkerson, president and chief executive officer of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. The meeting will take place just before the Jimmie Dyess Symposium.
THE SYMPOSIUM – which will honor Medal of Honor recipient Alfred Rascon, as well as Augustans Ann Boardman and Dick Daniel – will start promptly at 5 p..m. Jan. 9. It will be at the Augusta Museum of History, downtown at the corner of Sixth and Broad streets. You may wish to arrive early so you can tour the museum and still get to your seat in the museum’s rotunda before 5. Attendance at the symposium is free. A large audience is expected, so please plan to arrive early.
(The writer – a retired U.S. Air Force major general – serves on the boards of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, the Augusta Warrior Project and the Augusta Museum of History.)