In a ceremony at Newtown High School on Monday, May 6, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients presented Citizen Service Before Self Honors Medals posthumously to the fallen Sandy Hook School staff from 12/14 and presented a Certificate of Commendation to all teachers and staff at the school who acted courageously that day.
Nominations for the Citizen Service Before Self Honors Award, sponsored by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, to recognize the valor and selflessness of the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook School were numerous when collected at the end of December.
When judging was completed, General Herbert L. Wilkerson (US Marine Corps, retired) said there was a unanimous idea between the judges to make an effort to visit Sandy Hook to present the families of those lost and the teachers and staff who did their part to shield students on 12/14 with a ceremony.
At the ceremony on Monday, Gen Wilkerson welcomed all in attendance and explained four Medal of Honor recipients — Paul W. Bucha, Bruce P. Crandal, Jack H. Jacobs, and Thomas G. Kelley — were there to present the honors.
“We’ve asked family members of the citizen honorees to join us today, as well as teachers and staff from Sandy Hook Elementary,” said Gen Wilkerson.
Departing Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, First Selectman Pat Llodra, and the Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor were among those present for the event.
Captain Bucha (US Army, retired) explained the significance of the Citizen Service Before Self Medal, as one of the founders of the program.
“We have an opportunity to speak for the veterans, speak for the families of those who serve our country in uniform in what we describe as combat in war,” said Capt Bucha, a Fairfield resident.
Several years ago, Capt Bucha said a number of Medal of Honor recipients decided to turn the “spotlight” around to “identify people in society who do the exact same thing, except are not qualified for the Medal of Honor requirements because it is not against an enemy of the nation and they are not in the uniform of the United States.”
For the last six years the citizen honors have been bestowed on civilians “who showed extraordinary courage, perseverance, and fortitude either by saving a life in a single act of bravery or with ongoing remarkable selfless service of a lifetime to others,” Capt Bucha said.
Usually, three citizens who acted heroically receive the Citizen Service Before Self medal, presented during ceremonies near the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery. This year, however, an unprecedented ten citizens received the honor, including the six women from Sandy Hook School. Presentations were made on March 15 at Arlington this year to Joe Carroll of San Diego, Calif.; Marcos Ugart, Troutdale, Ore.; and father and son Jesse Shaffer III and Jesse Shaffer IV, Braithwaite, La.
Capt Bucha said the Medal of Honor recipients who make up the Medal of Honor Society and Foundation determined the events at Sandy Hook School on 12/14 was such an unprecedented occurrence that a separate ceremony was needed to commemorate the memories of Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto.
“We are honored to be in Newtown to commemorate these hometown heroes and the mark they have left on all of us,” Capt Bucha said.
When Dr Robinson spoke, she said the district has always known it has a special staff, who put their students first.
“It’s why Newtown has been able to excel,” said Dr Robinson. “Our students are the recipients of some of the finest education from some of the most committed and caring educators I have had the privilege to work with in my career.”
On that day in December, Dr Robinson said the six educators demonstrated how committed they were to their students, “by giving their lives to protect our students.”
They were not combat trained, but instead elementary educators, Dr Robinson said.
“But their overwhelming thoughts and actions were to protect the children, regardless of the risk when the threat appeared,” said Dr Robinson. “Their actions speak more than words ever, ever could about the love for their children.”
When the Citizen Service Before Self Honors Medals were awarded to family representatives, each received a standing ovation from the crowd in the NHS auditorium.
Natalie Hammond, lead teacher at Sandy Hook School who was herself wounded in the 12/14 attack, accepted the Certificate of Commendation to all teachers and staff at the school who distinguished themselves through extraordinary heroism that day.
Following the ceremony two representatives of Lewis County Fire District 15 from Washington State also presented awards to the family members of the six women. After posthumously inducting them as firefighters, Lewis County Fire District 15 then voted to award the Fire Service Medal of Honor to them for their acts of bravery on 12/14.