DeKalb Middle School will be hosting a visit by two Medal of Honor recipients on Friday, August 7.
Leo Thorsness, a retired colonel in the United States Air Force and Hal Fritz, a retired United States Army Officer will land on campus around 9:00 a.m. in a Blackhawk helicopter and then address students at a school assembly program.
Thorsness and Fritz both received the Medal of Honor for their actions in the Vietnam War.
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. It is generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress.
DeKalb Middle is one of only a handful of mid-state schools receiving Medal of Honor recipients as part of "Nashville Salutes", a three day event focusing on these heroes and what they stand for while preserving their legacy through the Medal of Honor Foundation's Character Development Program, which incorporates the ideals of courage and selfless service into the middle and high school curriculum to build character and promote responsible citizenship.
Tena Davidson, an educator at DeKalb Middle School, told WJLE Thursday that she discovered the program and introduced it to students in her class last year. "When I became the writing instructor for the entire Middle School last year, I searched for material I could use and found the Medal of Honor Character Development material online. It was excellent material that teaches kids to look up to someone who really has courage, integrity, citizenship, patriotism, commitment, and sacrifice. These kinds of things. It was very inspiring for the students to view these Medal of Honor recipient's stories so we began to do this program last year. I then went to a workshop in Nashville and learned that the City of Nashville was going to host 30 of the living Medal of Honor recipients. There are only 79 in the world today. It worked out that 28 are going to be in Nashville on August 6, 7, & 8 and we happened to be chosen as one of five schools where two Medal of Honor recipients are going to be visiting. They will be flying in on a Blackhawk helicopter and landing on the lawn of the school at 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning, August 7," she said.
While the assembly program will be just for students, Davidson said the entire community is encouraged to be on hand to help welcome the arrival of these war heroes to our town. "We are hopefully going to give them a huge greeting. We really want the town to come out and to support this. We welcome anyone to come and bring your flags or wear red, white, and blue. We would love for our veterans to come and welcome these guys who went above and beyond the call of duty for our country. After landing, they will be speaking in a private setting in our gym with just our seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students who participated in this program last year in my writing lab. Our kids and teachers are super excited. We are honored to have these two men come and speak to our students. We are just thrilled about it and hope everybody will come and be there for this momentous occasion in our town," said Davidson.
Colonel Thorsness' Medal of Honor Citation reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F-105 aircraft, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In the attack on the second missile site, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the two crewmembers abandoned their aircraft.
Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker.
Upon being advised that two helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MIGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted four MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MIGs, damaging one and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely.
Lieutenant Colonel Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force."
Captain Fritz's Medal of Freedom citation reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. (then 1st Lt.) Fritz, Armor, U.S. Army, distinguished himself while serving as a platoon leader with Troop A, near Quần Lợi.
Capt. Fritz was leading his 7-vehicle armored column along Highway 13 to meet and escort a truck convoy when the column suddenly came under intense crossfire from a reinforced enemy company deployed in ambush positions. In the initial attack, Capt. Fritz' vehicle was hit and he was seriously wounded. Realizing that his platoon was completely surrounded, vastly outnumbered, and in danger of being overrun, Capt. Fritz leaped to the top of his burning vehicle and directed the positioning of his remaining vehicles and men. With complete disregard for his wounds and safety, he ran from vehicle to vehicle in complete view of the enemy gunners in order to reposition his men, to improve the defenses, to assist the wounded, to distribute ammunition, to direct fire, and to provide encouragement to his men. When a strong enemy force assaulted the position and attempted to overrun the platoon, Capt. Fritz manned a machine gun and through his exemplary action inspired his men to deliver intense and deadly fire which broke the assault and routed the attackers. Moments later a second enemy force advanced to within 2 meters of the position and threatened to overwhelm the defenders.
Capt. Fritz, armed only with a pistol and bayonet, led a small group of his men in a fierce and daring charge which routed the attackers and inflicted heavy casualties. When a relief force arrived, Capt. Fritz saw that it was not deploying effectively against the enemy positions, and he moved through the heavy enemy fire to direct its deployment against the hostile positions. This deployment forced the enemy to abandon the ambush site and withdraw. Despite his wounds, Capt. Fritz returned to his position, assisted his men, and refused medical attention until all of his wounded comrades had been treated and evacuated. The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by Capt. Fritz, at the repeated risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect the greatest credit upon himself, his unit, and the Armed Forces".