By Raymond Brassard
Attending the Medal of Honor Legacy program at Freedoms Foundation in 2015 was life-changing. I was surrounded by teachers who were passionate about teaching and, like me, equally passionate about teaching history. Since then, I have also attended Medal of Honor Vietnam (2016) and Medal of Honor War on Terror (2017) – this last one with my wife Melissa. The programs are incredible and Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge does a great job bringing in top-level presenters and speakers.
An integral part of these seminars is the Medal of Honor Foundation Character Development Program (CDP), which inspired me to incorporate more stories of veterans, especially Medal of Honor recipients, into my curriculum.
My classroom at Emerald Ridge High School now has a Medal of Honor recipient wall, with a new recipient every two to three weeks. I include their name, picture, Medal citation, and additional details about their life or service. And I’ve added recipients into lessons on various conflicts. In one writing assignment, students compare the sacrifice of a recipient to one they have had to make. In another, they write the “Last Words” they would say to someone they wouldn’t see again. For that task, I used recipient videos as examples, specifically Sammy Davis (Army, Vietnam) and Sal Giunta (Army, Afghanistan). I was even able to get recipient Joe Jackson (Air Force, Vietnam) to speak at my school.
The recipients have also influenced my coaching at Puyallup High School. Before each game, the football team gathers for a pre-game meal. At the first gathering of the 2015 season, I told the story of Jack Lucas (Marine, World War II) to inspire our players. The next week, I talked about Douglas Munro (Coast Guard, World War II), and a Coast Guard vet later thanked me. He was so glad his family got to hear that story. I’m still telling these stories, sometimes with as many as 200 people in attendance, and the players always want to know more about the recipients. I believe there is great value in sharing these tales of brotherhood, love and sacrifice.
In October 2017, I was presented with the high school version of the Medal of Honor Excellence in Character Education Award. My wife and I traveled to Los Angeles for the Circle of Honor Gala, hosted by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, and had an opportunity to meet several Medal recipients. It was a memorable weekend that has had a powerful impact on my life and profession.
The award came with $5,000, and my wife and I had a long talk about how to spend the money. I grew up poor but still remember how my mom often found ways to donate to various causes. As bad as we had it, there were always people worse off than us. Melissa and I decided that creating a scholarship program to help high school students become teachers would be a great way to share the money with the community that helped make the award possible. We also are creating a Character In Life Foundation to ensure the award continues. We have already received donations from family and friends, and are applying for 501(c)3 status so future gifts can be tax deductible.
The scholarship is for Emerald Ridge and Puyallup students who have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher and intend to pursue a career in education. They need two letters of recommendation and must write an essay that explains how their life has demonstrated one or more of the values of the CDP – courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity and citizenship.
It would be great to eventually offer larger scholarships and expand to other schools, or even to help teachers attend professional development courses and fund Medal of Honor memorials or other veteran-related causes. For now, though, we are happy to help two, three or four students pay for their college. And one day when they are teachers, we will encourage them to attend FFVF or CDP trainings. Just as I shared what I learned at Freedoms Foundation with colleagues and students, we want these future teachers to do the same.
Today, whenever my wife and I travel, we take time to locate the gravesites of Medal of Honor recipients. It started when we planned a visit to the grave of Douglas Munro in Cle Elum, WA, on the anniversary of his Medal of Honor action and death. Later, while visiting Yakima, WA, my wife noticed what looked like a MOH on a street sign. We learned there was a local recipient — Jack Pendleton (Army, World War II) – and stopped by his gravesite to pay our respects. I have now visited 147 recipient gravesites and my wife has been there for most of those. I tell family and friends that the names on headstones are for the people above ground, not for those below. When we walk through and read the names, we think about the stories of these Medal recipients and the sacrifices they made for others. More people need that reminder, and that’s part of what we hope to inspire with our scholarships. We are starting small, but hope to have a large impact on future teachers – and their students.
Raymond Brassard, a teacher at Emerald Ridge High School and a football coach at Puyallup High School in Washington state, and his wife Melissa recently returned to Valley Forge to attend the April 11 Evening with Freedoms Foundation. For more information about the Character In Life Foundation, contact him at BrassaRJ@puyallup.k12.wa.us