C. Todd Lopez
Army News Service
Just a day after the president placed the Medal of Honor around the neck of former Army Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha, the noncommissioned officer was inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon – where the names and memories of all service members who have earned that honor have been enshrined.
Among those attending the Feb. 12 ceremony at the Pentagon were Romesha and his family, soldiers from his unit – B Troop, 3-61 Cavalry, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division – Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, and the Army chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.
"Today as we induct Staff Sergeant Romesha into the famed Hall of Heroes, he joins the rare fraternity of military service members in the Medal of Honor Society – they have demonstrated uncommon valor and extraordinary courage under fire," Odierno said.
Adding, "Of being awarded the nation’s highest military decoration, Staff Sergeant Romesha said ‘this medal isn’t for me, the medal is for all the great things the platoon and the troops did that day.’ His humility, honor, leadership, integrity, personal courage and selfless service represent what is best about our soldiers and our Army."
Romesha is the fourth living service member to receive the medal for either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.
On that morning, Combat Outpost, or COP Keating, manned by only 53 soldiers and situated at the bottom of a steep valley, came under attack by Taliban fighters.
Odierno told those in attendance that Romesha embodies "the essence of a soldier" and that he represents what every soldier strives to be: "An individual who has earned the trust of all he associates with, one who possesses humility and selflessness that we all respect, [and] one who embraces esprit de corps and routinely demonstrates a dedication to his profession, with moral and physical courage that epitomizes the ethos of the ‘American Soldier.’"
Panetta said that as secretary of defense, he has learned that a soldier’s success depends not just on those other soldiers around him, but also on the support of his family back home.
"It’s been my experience that every warrior who is out there who puts his or her life on the line – that behind them is a family that supports and shares in the many sacrifices that come with serving this country," he said.
Adding, "That love, that support, that sacrifice, is provided by the families of our service men and women; it is central to the strength of our military. We simply could not do the job that we are asked to do without our families."
At COP Keating, the odds were stacked against American soldiers. But, Panetta said the Taliban failed to take into account the dedication American soldiers had to protecting their own and what was theirs.
"That the Taliban failed to overtake COP Keating is, with those numbers, a testament to the bravery, the heroism, the warrior spirit, of the American soldiers who fought to save it," he said.
"They failed because of brave young men such as Clint Romesha, a combat veteran who had already served two tours of duty in Iraq and who distinguished himself above and beyond the call of duty on that day. They failed because he and his fellow soldiers were determined to hold that post," he added.
After senior leaders spoke, Romesha and his wife, Tammy, were asked to step forward. Romesha was presented with a frame containing both his picture and a copy of his Medal of Honor citation.
He and his wife then revealed the board that now contains his name alongside the names of other medal recipients from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
That board will be placed in the Hall of Heroes.
Afterward, Romesha was able to address those in attendance at the ceremony.
"Nearly 400 Taliban fighters surrounded the place me and 52 other members of Bravo Troop 3-61 Cavalry called home," Romesha said. "Four hundred Taliban versus 53 American Soldiers: it just doesn’t seem fair ... for the Taliban."
The normally shy Romesha drew a laugh from the crowd, during what had previously been a more solemn ceremony.
But then he turned again to something very serious for him: The friends he lost in Afghanistan in 2009.
"It was our home, and they simply couldn’t have it," he said of COP Keating.
Adding, "But you know the Medal of Honor is not often given when things went well on the battlefield. It tends to come at a price, and heroes are often revealed. Some say I am a hero. But it doesn’t make sense, because I got to come home with few scars. Eight of my friends did not have that fortune.
"Eight of my brothers fought to survive for a place we had called home. And more importantly, they fought for their comrades. And in the end they gave their lives in their defense. Those eight amazing men, they are the real heroes."
Included among those who died in the fighting that day in Afghanistan were, Staff Sgt. Justin Gallegos, Sgt. Christopher Griffin, Sgt. Joshua Hardt, Sgt. Joshua Kirk, Spc. Stephan Mace, Staff Sgt. Vernon Martin, Sgt. Michael Scusa, and Pfc. Kevin Thomson.
"These aren’t just names, they are some of the best troops; and my friends," Romesha said.
With the Medal of Honor around his neck, and in a uniform he no longer needs to wear because he is now a civilian, he told those in attendance and the other Medal of Honor recipients that he would not let them down.
"I will wear it with dignity and humility, in their honor," he said of the medal around his neck. "I vow to respect their memories and carry each of them in my heart for the rest of my life. It is on their behalf that I stand before you today as just a regular grunt.
"There was no shortage of heroism at COP Keating that day," he continued. "And I am honored that some of the heroes of COP Keating are here with me today."
He asked those other heroes, soldiers in the audience who had fought with him that day to stand.
"Thank you brothers, thanks for everything," he said. "You are the strength of our nation."
The Army’s latest hero finished his short remarks by saying he hopes he will always be able to make proud those who are the most important to him.
"I pray that God and my family will always be proud of me," he said.
Adding, "And know this: whether I wear a uniform or civilian attire, I am and always will be a soldier for life."