Liberty Christian students had the honor and rare opportunity to host four Medal of Honor recipients recently at the school on the eve of the school’s patriotic Chili Cook-off prior to the football game that raised funds for Defenders of Freedom.
All four Medal of Honorees arrived and departed from the school in a Huey military helicopter, much like the ones used by the U.S. Army during combat in the Vietnam War.
These four recipients spoke with Middle and Upper School students in a special assembly, then shook hands and visited with students afterward.
Liberty history teacher and Vietnam veteran Mike Lettau began the assembly and provided the background on the Medal of Honor. President George W. Bush has said of the award, “The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that a President can bestow. It recognizes gallantry that goes above and beyond the call of duty in the face of an enemy attack. The tradition of awarding this honor began during the Civil War. And many of those who have received the medal have given their lives in the action that earned it.”
Each of the four men were introduced by students and spoke of patriotism and love of country.
Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Norris was the first to speak at the podium, reminding students of the freedom and opportunity found in America that other countries do not have. He encouraged students to set goals and define their character.
Norris attended the University of Maryland in 1967, studying criminology and wanting to work for the FBI. Knowing he had to satisfy his military obligation, he enlisted in the Navy, eventually joining the SEALs.
In the Vietnam War in 1972, Lieutenant Norris volunteered to go after survivors held by North Vietnamese troops, saved numerous South Vietnamese soldiers, directed counter-fire, and treated the wounded at the base.
On a reconnaissance mission, Norris was shot in the head and was hospitalized for three years. He received the Medal of Honor by President Gerald Ford in 1976.
In 1979, after leaving the military, Norris picked up his dream by joining the FBI. He retired in 1999.
Medal of Honor recipient Harold Fritz was the next to speak to students. He told them that the most important weapon is not a gun but education and faith.
“That is what will carry our country forward,” he said.
“I have a great love for this country, and great respect for those who served before us and after us,” he added.
He challenged students to look at their future and decide to be all they can be.
In 1966, Fritz was working toward a career in veterinary medicine when he got his draft notice. After advanced armor training, he was accepted for Officer Candidate School. In 1968, he was sent to Vietnam. While he was there, Fritz led a column of heavily armored vehicles on a dirt highway near Quan Lo. He was suddenly blown out of his armored vehicle from a huge explosion by a large force of North Vietnamese soldiers. Fritz’s force was caught in a crossfire. Fritz jumped into an armored vehicle, took a heavy toll on the attackers, and led his tiny force in a point-blank charge that temporarily drove the enemy back. He was hit several times, and one particularly heavy blow on the left side of his chest knocked him down.
Fritz had tried to call headquarters but didn’t know if the transmission had been received. As he readied his men for a last stand to protect the wounded, he saw the aerial of a U.S. tank coming down the road. It was part of a tank platoon that had overheard his call for help. Eventually, he and his wounded troopers were evacuated by helicopter.
Later that day when he returned to the battlefield, he found a battered cigarette lighter that had been given to him as a going-away present by his wife. It had been in his left breast pocket and had stopped an enemy bullet that would otherwise have killed him.
He returned to the U.S. in the spring of 1968 and learned in 1971 that he would receive the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon.
Leaving his infant son at home, Fritz was accompanied by his father and mother, brother, wife, and elder son and daughter. Before placing the medal around Fritz’s neck, President Nixon gave the men a commemorative tie clasp. Fritz’s older son looked up at the President said, “My little brother who’s not here didn’t get one.” The President removed his own tie claps and handed it to the boy, saying, “Well, then, give him this.”
Medal of Honor recipient Patrick Brady then spoke to students and described character as, “The you that God knows.”
He also told students, “With courage, sacrifice, and patriotism, all of you can be heroes.”
He told students that to have success, they must have courage, and to have happiness, they must sacrifice. He also stated that if students have heroes, their heroes must have a good character.
Brady was commissioned in the Medical Service Corps after college graduation in the early 1960s. His first posting was to Berlin as a medical platoon leader at the time the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961. Soon after, he was eager for new challenges, so he applied to flight school and became a helicopter pilot. In 1963, he went to Vietnam.
Flying a Huey UH-1 medevac helicopter, Brady volunteered to rescue two badly wounded South Vietnamese solders in enemy territory in 1968. Despite thick fog and close-range enemy fire, he located the soldiers and evacuated them.
Not long after this rescue mission, Brady was called to another fogged-in area where American causalities lay close to enemy lines. Earlier that day, two other U.S. helicopters had been shot down trying to reach the site. In total, Brady made four successful flights over the next hour to rescue all 39 GIs. On his third mission to rescue more soldiers that day, his helicopter was hit, but he was able to evacuate the injured.
Back at base, he got a replacement helicopter and returned to action near a mine field. His crewmen rescued the reluctant soldiers who did not want to cross the minefield. All were brought aboard, except for one who was being carried on a stretcher by two of Brady’s crew members. They almost reached the plane when one of the stretcher bearers stepped on a mine. The explosion blew a hole in the helicopter and caused every warning light on the control panel to go on, but Brady managed to get the damaged craft off the ground and deliver the six severely injured soldiers to medical aid. Then he picked up a new helicopter and kept flying. In all, he evacuated 51 men that day. Four hundred bullet holes were counted in the helicopters he flew.
Back in the United States, Brady was awarded his second Distinguished Service Cross. The award was later upgraded to a Medal of Honor, which was presented to him by President Nixon in 1969.
Brady retired as a major general in 1993. His daughter, Meghan, followed in his military footsteps, entering the Medical Service Corps, and served as a medic in the 1991 war against Iraq. Since retirement, Brady has supported many service organizations. He currently serves as chairman of the Citizens Flag Alliance, a coalition of organizations determined to protect the American flag.
Medal of Honor recipient Robert Patterson was the last to speak, and he opened by asking students what is the most important step in building a home, and the answer is by constructing a solid foundation. He told students that their foundation must be in a solid education. He learned this lesson the hard way because he dropped out of school his senior year and joined the Army.
In Vietnam in 1968, Patterson and his fellow soldiers came under fire by a battalion-sized force of North Vietnamese Army regulars that outnumbered the Americans three to one. Patterson climbed up to the second floor of a pagoda and used that vantage point to take out two North Vietnamese bunkers with grenades and his machine gun.
He also charged through heavy enemy fire and single-handedly destroyed five North Vietnamese positions. Late in the afternoon, his unit continued in a firefight that would continue until they were relieved the next morning.
During the remaining time he was in Vietnam, he took part in some of the heaviest fighting of the war in what later broke out in the “second Tet Offensive.”
He came home in December 1968 and learned the following year that he would receive the Medal of Honor from President Nixon. At the ceremony, he received advice from World War II Medal of Honor recipient Rufus Geddie Herring who told him afterward, “It will be much harder to wear that ribbon than it was to earn it.” More than 25 years later, Patterson said, “Geddie was right. Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t think of the responsibilities of this medal.”
Liberty Christian students learned of some of that responsibility last Friday when they heard in person what it takes to be a difference-maker when they met with history face to face – four men whose heroics and bravery earned them the Medal of Honor.
Vivian Nichols handles communications for Liberty Christian School.