“They can serve as an example for all of us,” professor says

With the passing of Veterans Day last Tuesday, Dr. Harry Laver of the History and Political Science department spoke on “The Greatest of Their Generation: D-Day Medal of Honors Winners.” 

The lecture recognized four veterans and heroes from D-Day who received the Medal of Honor on June 6, 1944. Laver discussed the individual stories of veterans Carlton Barrett, Jimmie Monteith, John Pinder and Theodore Roosevelt Jr., what they did before the war and what they did on D-Day.

“I was telling some lessons to take from [the four veterans],” said Laver. “First to remember them and all veterans, and second, they can serve as an example for all of us and what we do in our daily lives to try to accomplish extraordinary things as Roosevelt did.”

Both Jimmie Monteith and John Pinder died on D-Day. Barrett lived until 1986 and Roosevelt lived until July of 1944. Laver accredited their receiving of the Medal of Honor to the standard image many have of extraordinary acts while under fire.

“[They were] seriously wounded and yet continuing to carry out their responsibilities and to help other soldiers,” said Laver. “The one general that was awarded the Medal of Honor was actually Teddy Roosevelt’s son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who was a one-star general; he was awarded the Medal of Honor because of his decision making.”

According to Laver, Roosevelt was in the first wave to land upon enemy-held Utah Beach on D-Day and he made decisions that saved the operation after errors were made. Barrett risked his life to save his comrades in the water while under fire. Monteith showed gallantry and leadership as he landed with the initial wave while under enemy fire. Pinder went into the fire-swept surf multiple times to salvage communication equipment while seriously injured. 

The reason these four alone were chosen as recipients of the Medal of Honor is clear, but why the many other men and women were not recipients is unclear. 

“There were, by the end of D-Day, over 70,000 American forces in France. Why those four? One, each of them did extraordinary things. But there were dozens if not hundreds of others who did similar things on D-Day,” said Laver. “Why those four? Better question: why not the others?”

Laver explained that to receive the Medal of Honor there has to be recognition, recommendations and nominations. For many, there were not surviving witnesses for what they did. As days passed after D-Day, though, many more were recognized for their heroism, but only the four mentioned were recognized on D-Day.

Despite being President Roosevelt’s son, many do not think of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and his accomplishments when the name Roosevelt is mentioned. The four veterans do not have commonly recognized names despite their award.

“They’re not common names, which I think is in part intriguing,” said Laver. “Many of the individuals who won the Medal of Honor have been like us. Average, ordinary Americans with their own faults and demons they have to fight off. And yet they accomplish extraordinary things. There’s really not a reason in our lives we shouldn’t be striving to do the same things they did.” 

Laver explained how one of the Medal of Honor winners wrote a letter to his mother before D-Day where he mentioned that people forget the soldiers who fight their battles within hours.

“I think in America today we have a problem with that. For the majority of us, we haven’t been affected at all,” said Laver. “We haven’t been limited in what we can buy, what we can do. It’s that very small percentage of the American public who have suffered—those in the military and their families.”

Many recognize Veterans Day, but soon forget about it the next day.

“Veterans Day is almost a bumper sticker day,” said Laver. “We say how we are so thankful and then for the other 364 days of the year we don’t really think about it. Veterans Day is at least one day that forces everyone to recognize what those men and women are doing and have done time and time again for years.”