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By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 22, 2007 - Medal of Honor recipients are heroes, despite their many humble objections to the label, and are important to the fabric of our society, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told those gathered yesterday to celebrate the official naming of March 25 as National Medal of Honor Day.
Medal of Honor recipients and their families, politicians, senior military members and others packed the historic caucus room in the Russell Senate Office Building to honor those wearing the nation's highest military award for bravery.
Congress this month designated March 25 each year as National Medal of Honor Day. The day is significant as the day the first Medal of Honor was presented in 1863.
At last night's ceremony, England highlighted the importance of the honor and its recipients to the nation and its military.
"Heroes are important. They are important to our military. But they are also important to every citizen and to every person in the world who enjoys and yearns for freedom and liberty," England said.
"Heroes set standards for the rest of us to aspire to. And by their example they encourage others to excel," he said.
England also recognized at the ceremony the two most recent recipients of the award, Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham and Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, both recognized posthumously for bravery in the war in Iraq.
"They are an example of this generation of Americans who volunteer to serve and who serve today in sacrifice for all of us," England said. "In performing these acts, the recipients have demonstrated resolve, commitment, determination, will and raw courage to prevail. Those qualities are the underpinning of our nation."
England read a letter from President Bush to the group. In the letter, Bush said the country owes Medal of Honor recipients a debt for their service and, for many, the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.
"Our country is in debt to these great warriors and that debt is one that we can never fully pay," Bush wrote. "The courage and leadership of the men and women who are honored on this day represent the highest ideals in military service and each of them has set a fine example of what it means to be a fine American."
Since 1863, 3,444 servicemembers have received the nation's highest military honor for courage under fire.
This Sunday the following ceremony will take place...