Courage. Commitment. Sacrifice. Patriotism. Integrity and citizenship.
Those values are all qualities of America’s Congressional Medal of Honor recipients – qualities Carroll County Middle School hopes to impart on its students with a new program this school year. On August 2, teachers from CCMS had the distinct honor of learning about the program from an actual Congressional Medal of Honor recipient – Gordon Ray Roberts.
Roberts, who retired from the Army as a Colonel in 2012 after active duty in both Vietnam and Iraq, spoke to CCMS teachers at Hillsville’s First United Methodist Church. Roberts was there to speak about a Congressional Medal of Honor Character Development program that will be implemented at CCMS this school year. But he said his focus was to let Carroll’s teachers know how important they are to the community and to the country in general.
“The Army, all of our military services depend on these teachers, not simply teaching them English and Math, but building our character, the kind of character that says, ‘Hey, our community is more important than just myself,’” Roberts said. “We are faced now with such a me generation. It is our teachers and our schools that really stand and say there is something more important than just ourselves – the community, the country, serving one another. It is not just the Christian good thing to do. It is the American good thing to do.”
The story behind Roberts’ Congressional Medal of Honor citation is an incredible one. On July 11, 1969, while fighting as a rifleman in the 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War, Roberts single-handedly wiped out three machine gun nests, saving the lives of over 20 soldiers.
Sgt. Roberts’ platoon was maneuvering along a ridge to attack heavily fortified enemy bunker positions which had pinned down an adjoining friendly company. As the platoon approached the enemy positions, it was suddenly pinned down by heavy automatic weapons and grenade fire from camouflaged enemy fortifications atop the overlooking hill. Seeing his platoon immobilized and in danger of failing in its mission, Sgt. Roberts crawled rapidly toward the closest enemy bunker. With complete disregard for his safety, he leaped to his feet and charged the bunker, firing as he ran. Despite the intense enemy fire directed at him, Sgt. Roberts silenced the 2-man bunker.
Without hesitation, Sgt. Roberts continued his 1-man assault on a second bunker. As he neared the second bunker, a burst of enemy fire knocked his rifle from his hands. Sgt. Roberts picked up a rifle dropped by a comrade and continued his assault, silencing the bunker.
He continued his charge against a third bunker and destroyed it with well-thrown hand grenades. Although Sgt. Roberts was now cut off from his platoon, he continued his assault against a fourth enemy emplacement. He fought through a heavy hail of fire to join elements of the adjoining company which had been pinned down by the enemy fire. Although continually exposed to hostile fire, he assisted in moving wounded personnel from exposed positions on the hilltop to an evacuation area before returning to his unit.
Roberts said he is typically invited to speak to high school and junior high students, but it is a joy to be able to speak to teachers like he did August 1.
“The teachers are the ones that really deserve to be applauded for everything they are doing. You look at the pay structure they get and virtually any job they could do better in their lives for themselves,” Roberts said. “The sacrifice they are making simply by being the teacher and saying, ‘Our future generation, our kids are that important.’ It is so sad when you think about what we reward monetarily in society, and then you look at teachers and it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Several teachers asked Roberts his thoughts about the negative reception Vietnam vets received on their return home. Roberts’ answers were a little surprising.
“I think a lot of them resented it, the Jane Fonda sort of thing, but I looked at it like that is freedom of speech,” Roberts said. “You have to look at it with realistic eyes. We were serving our country. Our hearts were where they needed to be. The fact that people somehow translated the problem with soldiers and not with the leaders running that thing – that was the problem. But I guarantee you today, when there is a soldier in uniform walking down the aisles in the airport people stand and applaud that soldier. He sits down in a restaurant and someone will pick up his check, I guarantee it. And it shows you our country has learned a lot.”
CCMS teachers Louise Hiatt and Amanda Gardner were instrumental in bringing the Congressional Medal of Honor Character Development Program to the middle school. Hiatt said the two first saw the program at Virginia Tech in March and “it was amazing.” Gardner said the two fell in love with the program and immediately began work to implement it at the Hillsville school.
“Kids will learn about honor and the character traits involved in the program and how we can implement them in our schools. One of the conditions is to show these movies that go along with lessons and we are going to show them to the kids. I think it is important for our kids to know.”
Gardner said the late Charles B. Morris, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient from the Carroll-Galax area, will be incorporated into one of the lessons for students. To have Roberts come speak to fellow teachers was a supreme honor, she said.
“They told us two-thirds of the trainings they do, the Medal of Honor recipients don’t come, so we feel very fortunate to have him,” Gardner said. “Part of the reason he came was because he lived so close (near Fort Bragg) but also because our school is doing the training and we are implementing the program school-wide.”
CCMS Principal Marc Quesenberry said Hiatt and Gardner were extremely excited about implementing the program. It is one he thinks will benefit the school’s students greatly.
“We are always talking about character development with our students, but this will give us a lot more direction and something we will implement this school year and put a lot of emphasis on. We are very excited about it and very lucky to have a Medal of Honor recipient talk to us about the program,” Quesenberry said.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN