In the May 21, 2015 edition of the Wall Street Journal author Daniel Ford wrote “Medal of Honor Lessons for Graduates,” a very moving article about Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts, and his commencement address to the class of 2015 University of New Hampshire graduates and their guests. Sgt. Pitts told them what he learned about courage and comradeship while serving in the U.S. Army.
In July 2008 he was the last man alive in an observation post named “Topside” above the village of Wanat in the Hindu Kush mountains in northeastern Afghanistan. Wounded in the forehead, one arm and both legs, he held the outpost with grenades and a machine gun until helicopter gunships could clear the way for his rescue.
“I thought I was out of the fight until I looked around and watched everyone else fighting with everything they had. My brothers were undeterred by the enemy fire raining down on us like the violent summer thunderstorms that come out of nowhere….They would never let me down and I owed them the same. It was at this point that I crawled back to my fighting position and rejoined the fight.”
“Standing wasn’t physically possible, but I was able to drag myself around and pull myself into a kneeling position when I needed. I fought alongside my brothers like this for awhile until our position sounded eerily quiet given the fight raging around us. I crawled around and it was at this point I discovered I was the only man alive at the position.”
“Valor was everywhere that day,” he said in his address, before drawing a moral for the young graduates about to embark on their careers: “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to move forward in the face of it. There is beauty in this definition, because courage can exist in the decisions we make every day. Courage exists in the individual who accepts who they are and openly lives the life they want in the face of rejection. Courage exists in those who challenge their own perceptions in the face of accepting they are not infallible. Be courageous and appreciate courage in others who take action in the face of fear.”
He closed by saying, “The last thought I will leave you with is more a matter of character. Never forget those who helped you reach where you are.”
Then he named the men who died fighting with him that morning: “Sergio Abad, Jonathan Ayers, Jason Bogar, Jonathan Brostrom, Israel Garcia, Jason Hovater, Matthew Phillips, Pruitt Rainey and Gunnar Zwilling. The advice here is simple: Appreciative the contributions of others and the impacts they make on your own life. That’s it.”