Medal of Honor turns 23 next week

Apr. 18—Gainesville begins the 23rd anniversary of the first Medal of Honor celebration next week with a full slate of events — Thursday's welcome party at the Gainesville Municipal Airport, banquets, school visits and a parade.

This is a great contrast to the first MOH weekend in 2001, where three recipients came to visit.

"Back in 2000, I think, Don Pettigrew was going to a Iwo Jima survivors reunion over in Wichita Falls, and he saw that there were two Medal of Honor recipients that weren't there because of funding," said MOH Host City Program President Tommy Moore, an Air Force veteran who moonlights as Mayor of Gainesville. "He was at home telling people here about that, and the mayor [Kenneth Kaden] said 'Well, somebody ought to do something about that,' and they sit and go, 'Well, who should it be?' They said, 'Us, of course.'"

From there, they got to work, and the plans for the first MOH weekend were set into motion.

"Fast forward, they came up with a 501-C3, the city has a line item budget," said Moore. "We hosted three recipients our first year in 2001, and from there, everything we've done has been pretty organic, adding a banquet, adding a book signing, adding a parade, so that's how how that all came to fruition."

The first event went well, and the decision was made to make this an annual event.

"They wanted to introduce citizens and youth, young people to real life heroes, people who put it all on the line to save a life or defend our country," said Moore. "They wanted to expose them to people who didn't wear a jersey or a cape but are identified as a hero."

As the program grows, preserving the history and stories of the MOH recipients has become more important.

"When we first started our program, there were 150 living Medal of Honor recipients out of the 3,517 that were ever awarded [at the time]. Today, there are 62 living MOH recipients [out of 3,536]," said Moore. "We continue to have the history, the celebration of patriotism and talking about the character of the people that earn the medal ... to keep the spirit of the program going for many generations beyond us."

Medal of Honor starts Thursday, April 25, with the motorcade arrival at Gainesville Municipal Airport after 5 p.m. Go to for a full list of the week's events.