The Executive Committee of the Medal of Honor Foundation will meet this month on the campus of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, home of the 42-acre Medal of Honor Grove. There couldn’t be a more appropriate setting for the meeting.
“The Medal of Honor Grove is possibly the oldest and largest living memorial to the Medal of Honor and its more than 3,500 recipients,” said Vietnam veteran Wallace Nunn, chairman of Freedoms Foundation’s Board of Directors and a former chairman of the Medal of Honor Foundation. “There really is nothing else like it. And it’s no exaggeration to say that the Medal of Honor Foundation, and a good number of Medal Recipients, have been critical in saving the Grove.”
In recent years the Medal of Honor Foundation has provided funding –$50,000 annually — for cleanup, maintenance and beautification of the Grove. Their efforts, along with thousands of local volunteers, have ensured that the four miles of roads through the Grove have been repaved and are kept clear, that dead and ailing trees are removed and new ones planted, that the individual state areas are cleaned and refurbished, that plaques and obelisks with the names of the Recipients are kept in a condition befitting those they honor.
Mark Prowell, a Marine veteran and chairman of the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove, said, “Through involvement in the Grove, as a board member of the Friends or as a volunteer, we are able to show our respect, appreciation, and honor to those who have fought to maintain our freedoms. And a lot of what we do is possible thanks to the support of the Medal of Honor Foundation.”
Important as that work is, Freedoms Foundation and the Medal of Honor Foundation have another equally important mission: passing on the legacy of Medal Recipients to school teachers through the Character Development Program (CDP). This resource was “designed by teachers to provide students with opportunities to explore the important concepts of courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity and citizenship and how these values can be exemplified in daily life,” according to the Medal of Honor Foundation’s web site. The one-day trainings are offered throughout the country, but at Freedoms Foundation they are integrated into week-long, for-credit summer graduate programs such as “Heroes & Heroines: Transforming Character Through Biography,” “From Immigrants to Citizens: History and Civic Values,” “Medal of Honor Legacy: War on Terror,” and “The Civil Rights Movement.” Teachers not only discuss the six CDP values in the context of their course of study, but also meet and hear from Medal Recipients on how those values shaped their experiences in both military and civilian life.
Jennifer Truman Nanik, a U.S. history teacher at Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp, CA, recently wrote that she was initially skeptical about incorporating the Character Development Program into her curriculum. Would high school students respond? Indeed they did. “The students made connections between the six traits and the various units we had studied throughout the year – and not just the war units,” Nanik wrote. “They saw the traits in the Progressive Era, the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement.” But the impact went beyond the classroom. After an act of vandalism at the school, the students were quickly identifying that those involved in the cleanup – in the rain — were displaying citizenship and sacrifice. “I am no longer skeptical about the impact this program has on high school students,” Nanik wrote.
Freedoms Foundation has long held programs for teachers on campus, but combining forces with the Medal of Honor Foundation offered an additional element to the courses. “We’ve always been strong on civics – history, government, the Constitution – but character was a piece we never did before,” said Jason L.S. Raia, Freedoms Foundation executive vice president. “And it has added a dimension that is really valuable.”
The program has grown dramatically, with almost 400 teachers attending eight different programs this year, most of them thanks to the $100,000 in scholarships annually provided by the Medal of Honor Foundation. That support, and the partnership with Freedoms Foundation, is a natural for an organization whose mission statement begins: “Perpetuate the Medal of Honor’s legacy through outreach and collaborative efforts.”
“I talk to the teachers who come to our campus, and just get so excited about what we’re doing here,” said Wally Nunn. “They will touch the lives of maybe a hundred students a year for the next 10 or 20 years. That’s a big impact for one program, one that will be important not only for the students we reach but also for the future of our country.”
The Medal of Honor Foundation was created by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in 1999 for outreach, support of Recipients and their activities, and to “Promote American values and the qualities of courage, sacrifice, and patriotism through increased awareness, education, behavior and example.” The Society itself began in 1958, chartered by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower, who nine years earlier had helped begin Freedoms Foundation. The Society was tasked with continuing to serve the country by supporting living Medal Recipients and their families, honoring the memory of Recipients who had passed, protecting the integrity of the Medal, promoting patriotism and inspiring the next generation to become active citizens. The Foundation ensures the fund-raising and outreach in furtherance of those goals.
And that mission continues, as the Foundation’s Executive Committee gathers in Valley Forge this month.
Keep up with Freedoms Foundation news and events here.