For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 1, 2002
Remarks by the President at Presentation of Medal of Honor
The Rose Garden
2:11 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House, and welcome to our beautiful Rose Garden. We gather in tribute to two young men who died long ago in the service to America. In awarding the Medal of Honor to Captain Ben Salomon and Captain Jon Swanson, the United States acknowledges a debt that time has not diminished.
It's my honor to welcome to the Rose Garden the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tony Principi, Secretary Tom White of the Army, General Eric Shinseki, General John Jumper, Brigadier General David Hicks, the Chaplain -- thank you General Hicks for your prayer -- Congressman Brad Sherman, Congressman Charlie Norwood, Congressman Mark Udall, World War II veterans, Vietnam veterans, fellow Americans.
Joining us in this ceremony are four men who themselves earned the Medal of Honor: Barney Barnum, Al Rascon, Ryan Thacker, and Nicky Bacon. Thank you all for coming. (Applause.)
President Harry S. Truman said he would rather have earned the Medal of Honor than be the Commander-in-Chief. When you meet a veteran who wears that medal, remember the moment, because you are looking at one of the bravest ever to wear our country's uniform. We're honored to welcome these gentlemen.
I'm also pleased to welcome the family of Captain Swanson -- Sandee Swanson and their daughters, Holly and Brigid. We're so glad you all are here. (Applause.) I know how proud you must be of the man you have loved and missed for so many years. And seeing you here today, I know that John would be extremely proud.
For Captain Ben Salomon, no living relatives remain to witness this moment. And even though they never met, Captain Salomon is represented today by a true friend, Dr. Robert West. Welcome, sir. (Applause.)
Five years ago, Dr. West was reading about his fellow alumni of the University of Southern California's Dental School. He came upon the story of Ben Salomon of the class of 1937, who was a surgeon in World War II, and was posthumously nominated for the Medal of Honor. The medal was denied on a technicality. Looking into the matter, Dr. West found that an honest error had occurred, and that Captain Salomon was indeed eligible to receive the Medal of Honor.
He earned it on the day he died, July the 7th, 1944. Captain Salomon was serving in the Marianas Islands as a surgeon, in the 27th infantry division, when his battalion came under ferocious attack by thousands of Japanese soldiers. The American units sustained massive casualties, and the advancing enemy soon descended on Captain Salomon's aid station. To defend the wounded men in his care, Captain Salomon killed several enemy soldiers who had entered the aid station.
As the advance continued, he ordered comrades to evacuate the tent and carry away the wounded. He went out to face the enemy alone, and was last heard shouting, "I'll hold them off, until you get them to safety. See you later."
In the moments that followed, Captain Salomon single-handedly killed 98 enemy soldiers, saving many American lives, but sacrificing his own. As best the Army could tell, he was shot 24 times before he fell, more than 50 times after that. And when they found his body, he was still at his gun.
No one who knew him is with us this afternoon. Yet America will always know Benjamin Lewis Salomon by the citation to be read shortly. It tells of one young man who was the match for 100, a person of true valor who now receives the honor due him from a grateful country.
The Medal of Honor recognizes acts of bravery that no superior could rightly order a soldier to perform. The courage it signifies -- gallant, intrepid service at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty -- is written forever in the service record of Army Captain Jon Swanson.
A helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Captain Swanson flew his last mission on his second tour of duty, on February 26th, 1971, over Cambodia. As Allied forces on the ground came under heavy enemy fire, Captain Swanson was called in to provide close air support. Flying at tree-top level, he found and engaged the enemy, exposing himself to intense fire from the ground. He ran out of heavy ordinance, yet continued to drop smoke grenades to mark other targets for nearby gunships.
Captain Swanson made it back to safety, his ammunition nearly gone, and his Scout helicopter heavily damaged. Had he stayed on the ground, no one would have faulted him. But he had seen more -- he had seen that more targets needed marking, to eliminate the danger to the troops on the ground. He volunteered to do the job himself, flying directly into enemy fire, until his helicopter exploded in flight.
Captain Swanson's actions, said one fellow officer, "were the highest degree of personal bravery and self-sacrifice I have ever witnessed". Others agreed, and the Medal of Honor was recommended by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and by the late Admiral John McCain. However, only the Distinguished Service Cross was awarded, until a recent review of the case made clear that the nation's highest military honor was in order.
And so today, on what would have been his 60th birthday, the Medal of Honor is presented to the family of John Edward Swanson.
The two events we recognize today took place a generation apart, but they represent the same tradition. That tradition of military valor and sacrifice has preserved our country, and continues to this day. Captain Salomon and Captain Swanson never lived to wear this medal, but they will be honored forever in the memory of our country.
And now Commander Reynolds, will you please read the citations.
(The citations are read.) (Applause.)
END 2:19 P.M. EDT