When nominations for the Citizen Service Before Self Honors Award, sponsored by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, were received in December, there were overwhelming nominations to recognize the valor and selflessness of the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook School during the events of 12/14.
Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation President Tom Wilkerson said the nominations for the award came from across the country.
Nominations were received by December 28, and when judging was completed, General 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.
“We haven’t done this before,” Gen Wilkerson said on Wednesday, April 24. “This is a first, but we thought it was the right thing to do.”
The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation was founded by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which consists exclusively of the living Medal of Honor recipients.
The six women who lost their lives on 12/14 — Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Leigh Soto — will receive the Citizen Service Before Self medal posthumously, and an overall certificate will be awarded to the surviving Sandy Hook Elementary School staff and teachers who acted courageously to protect children that day.
Gen Wilkerson said the living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, who comprise the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, initiated the Citizen Honors program to recognize the character traits that make the legacy of the Medal of Honor: courage, sacrifice, and patriotism. Those traits, Gen Wilkerson said, are in every American, and may be shown during times that are not combat or military situations.
The Citizen Honors program was started to make people aware that courage starts at home, Gen Wilkerson said. It is in each community when Americans do extraordinary things in a moment of crisis or provide long acts of service to a community, he 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 will receive 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.
A ceremony to honor the Sandy Hook School faculty and staff will be held at Newtown High School on May 6. Major Bruce P. Crandall, US Army; First Lieutenant Jack H. Jacobs, US Army; and Lieutenant Thomas G. Kelley, US Navy, three Medal of Honor recipients, will present the honors during the event.
While the ceremony will be open to the public, space is limited and priority will be given to the honorees and their families and the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook School.
Gen Wilkerson said the citations that will be read during the ceremony mirror the wording of citations read for Medal of Honor recipients, to tie what someone might have done in duress in combat to what someone might have done under duress in a hometown.
There were a lot of heroes in Sandy Hook on 12/14, Gen Wilkerson said, and the ceremony will recognize them.
“We’re hoping that this is healing for the town as well,” said General Wilkerson, explaining that the ceremony adds a certain amount of closure along with recognition.