The journey from the halls of Montezuma to the banquet halls of the Atlantis restaurant may seem rather a long march, but it was one gladly made by the 25 Medal of Honor recipients who were feted Friday by about 400 members and friends of the San Diego County chapter of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.
The men, selected from among the ranks of medal recipients who live in the Western states, shared the field of honor with a somewhat unlikely cheerleader, a 78-year-old Roman Catholic nun named Sister Maria Veronica. Despite her old-fashioned habit and diminutive size, Sister Maria Veronica proved to be a lively champion of the men she called "her heroes"; she serves as archivist at the Freedoms Foundation's Congressional Medal of Honor Grove in Valley Forge, Pa.
The nun, who spent 50 years teaching history and political science in Philadelphia high schools, has devoted the last eight years to compiling a 96-volume record of the histories and exploits of the medal recipients. She is attempting to collect a photograph of every honoree, a difficult labor that she regards as essential to the compilation of a complete archive. "There is a need for this work to be done," she said.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Grove, a living memorial that includes a tree for each of the 3,396 recipients of the country's highest military honor, covers 52 acres, or one acre for each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The San Diego chapter of the Freedoms Foundation sends 36 local high school juniors to this grove every year for special youth conferences, which are followed by a trip to Washington.
The occasion easily might have been somber, since it marked the opening of the Veterans Day weekend, but the committee seemed determined to endow the day with a celebratory mood. It commenced and closed with parades--Sister Maria Veronica and the Medal of Honor recipients were special guests at recruit reviews at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and the Naval Training Center--sandwiched around a luncheon that featured patriotic speeches and tributes to the guests of honor.
Each medal recipient was introduced individually, and each received enthusiastic applause. Taken as a group, the most striking thing about the men was that they looked quite like ordinary people, not like a collection of Hollywood heroes. The demeanors of most seemed veined with humility. One, when asked by a guest how it felt to be a Medal of Honor "winner," soberly replied, "There are no winners in war."
The recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem (a solo performed by baritone Michael O'Donnell) preceded the luncheon of supreme de volaille Waterloo and glace a la creme de menthe. Master of ceremonies Jack Morse kept the program moving through a list of speakers that included local Freedoms Foundation chapter President Vangie Burt, and Fern and Bob Murphy, who both hold volunteer positions in the group.
Sister Maria Veronica spoke last.
"Battlefield courage is not an emotional outburst, as it often is depicted in the entertainment media," she said. "It is the ability to concentrate under pressure. And it is not the absence of fear, but the conquest of fear."
She herself seemed not lacking in courage, especially when she claimed as a trophy the congratulatory telegram that had been sent to the luncheon by President Ronald Reagan.
The senior Medal of Honor recipient, Thomas Pope, earned his medal in World War I. Among other honorees present were Alejandro Ruiz, Jay Vargas, William Barber, Lewis Millett, James Swett and Marine Col. Robert Modrzejewski, who is one of two medal recipients on active duty in San Diego County.
The luncheon committee included Rilla Lovell, Charlotte Thompson, Barbara Curtis, Shirley Gardella, Betty Hubbard, Alison Tibbitts, Amy Krulak, George Sorenson and Betty Tharp. Also working on the event were Jack Broward, Dick Burt, John Vandegrift, Marine Maj. Gen. Anthony Lukeman, Katherine Rogerson, Otto Hirr and Ralphine Greaves.
Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former United States emissary to the United Nations, kicked off Temple Beth Israel's 1985-86 lecture series "Images of the '80s" with a speech Nov. 6 to an audience of 1,500 at the Civic Theatre downtown. A reception for sponsors of the program, which in 1986 will feature lectures by Egypt's Jehan Sadat and newsman Ted Koppel, followed at the Tambo de Oro restaurant downtown.
Kirkpatrick was greeted by demonstrators (protesting U.S. involvement in Nicaragua and El Salvador) outside the theater, but she found a warm welcome within. She unsurprisingly tailored her lecture to suit her audience and concentrated on the state of affairs in the Middle East. During the question period that followed, the former ambassador seemed to disappoint a fair portion of the audience when she denied any interest in seeking the presidential or vice presidential nominations.
Most of the 200 guests at the Tambo de Oro reception had an opportunity to speak with Kirkpatrick, which did nothing to diminish the popularity she had generated among this group. She seemed quite tireless, unlike those visiting dignitaries who withdraw into private corners the moment the spotlight has been lifted from their shoulders.
Si Coleman, who with his wife, Karen, chairs the lecture series, said that it was designed to serve the entire San Diego community. "Few cities have a program like this," he said. "We want to enlighten our populace, to let the people of San Diego know what is going on in the world around them, and to give them a bird's-eye view of the people who are at the source of power."
The lecture series committee includes Barbara Goldman, Joan Jacobs, Marilynn Rowan, Bob and Leah Temkin, Dale Spector, Andrea Marsh, and Jerry and Marge Kattleman. Among those attending the post-lecture reception were Rabbi Michael Sternfield, Elaine and Murray Galinson, Pat and Richard Perlman, MaryAnn and George Scher, Donna and Rick Barrett, Lee and Frank Goldberg, and San Diego County Supervisor Susan Golding and her husband, Dick Silberman.