Three days before National Medal of Honor Day is observed, more than 120 people gathered at the Eternal Flame Memorial on the south side of the Columbus Government Center Saturday to remember local recipients of the honor and all soldiers who served their country.
The event was sponsored by the Chattahoochee Valley Veterans Council, an organization chaired by retired Army Lt. Col. Sam Nelson.
---- Congress dedicated March 25 as National Medal of Honor Day in 2007. Since the first recipients were awarded during the Civil War, 3,400 men and one woman have received the medal.
Nelson recognized the sacrifices of all the soldiers who have served. “Everybody that served does not get a medal,” he said.
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Retired Army Col. John House was guest speaker for the event. He focused on the values of courage, selfless sacrifice and leadership.
He recognized five recipients from the Columbus area and other soldiers receiving the honor. They included Navy Lt. Jackson C. Pharris, Army Lt. Robert B. Nett who retired as a colonel, Master Sgt. Charles L. McGaha, Staff Sgt. Freeman V. Horner and Spc. Donald R. Johnston.
Pharris was awarded the honor for heroism during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He saved many members of the USS California and supplied ammunition for the ship’s guns during the attack. On Dec. 14, 1944, Nett singlehandedly killed seven enemy fighters with his rifle and bayonet after suffering a gunshot to the neck during World War II. He was wounded twice more before he was evacuated from a crude field hospital.
McGaha was recognized for actions in the Philippines while leading other soldiers against overwhelming enemy forces. Horner was awarded the medal for personally capturing three German machine-gun positions while serving in the European theater.
While serving in Vietnam, Johnston saved the lives of six fellow soldiers when he smothered three explosive charges with his body.
Retired Army 1st Sgt. David Lockett, a Ranger who served two tours in Vietnam, said America might be a different place without the sacrifices of soldiers especially during World War II.
“We can never forget those that gave all,” he said. “We sleep and breathe everyday because of what they did. They don’t know how close we came to speaking Japanese and German.”