We at VALOR recognize the service and sacrifice of Utah’s veterans and military men and women. We want to share their stories, histories and vignettes of military service with our readers. When we chose to do so with a keepsake magazine, we decided on the title, VALOR, to align with words associated with the nation’s highest military decoration — the Medal of Honor — extreme courage, inspiration to lead, conspicuous gallantry, dauntless fortitude and spirit of self-sacrifice.
Officially called the Congressional Medal of Honor, the award is given for “uncommon valor” by men and women in the armed forces. It is given for bravery in actions “above and beyond the call of duty” in combat against an armed enemy. Since the medal was established by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Lincoln, there have been some 3,450 recipients. Utah has six accredited recipients — Marvyn S. Bennion, William E. Hall, George T. Sakato, Jose F. Valdez, George E. Wahlen, all of World War II vintage; and Brian M. Thacker of the Vietnam War.
According to Terry Schow, former executive director of Utah’s Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, Medal of Honor recipients are, in his experience, humble, modest individuals. Mostly, they’re surprised by recognition of their heroic actions, often done at the cost of their lives. Recipient responses are simply, “I just didn’t want to let my buddies down, that is why I did what I did. I had to go get them, care for them.”
As the measure of one man, Schow referred to George E. Wahlen’s citation for his Medal of Honor:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty with the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines, 5th Marine Division … during action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima. Painfully wounded, Wahlen remained on the battlefield … to aid a wounded marine and carrying him back to safety despite a terrific concentration of fire.
Tireless in his ministrations, he consistently disregarded all danger to attend his fighting comrades as they fell under the devastating rain of shrapnel and bullets, and rendered prompt assistance to various elements … Wounded again, he gallantly refused evacuation … repeatedly rendering medical aid while exposed to the blasting fury of powerful Japanese guns. Stouthearted and indomitable, he persevered in his determined efforts as his unit waged fierce battle and, unable to walk after sustaining a third agonizing wound, resolutely crawled 50 yards to administer first aid to still another fallen fighter. By his dauntless fortitude and valor, Wahlen served as a constant inspiration and contributed vitally to the high morale of his company during critical phases of this strategically important engagement. His heroic spirit of self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming enemy fire upheld the highest traditions of the U.S. military …
Wahlen’s selflessness did not end upon retirement from military service. He returned to Ogden and went to work for the Salt Lake Veterans office. He worked tirelessly for years for veterans by explaining benefits, lobbying for medical and retirement facilities, and establishing the Utah Veteran Memorial Park and Cemetery. Schow says even in his final decline, Wahlen watched the daily progress of the Ogden Veterans Home, which bares Wahlen’s name. “His final concerns were for his fellow service men and women,” says Schow. And Utah returned the honor. “At his funeral, I thought, ‘what a revered man’ … from the highest-ranking to the lowest-ranking military personnel were in attendance. At the end, all stood and saluted him.” Schow adds, “So when you talk of valor, humility and service to one’s community, Wahlen stands as an exemplary of Utah’s outstanding service men and women.”
VALOR acknowledges all of our veterans and military personnel can identify with the uncommon characteristics of a Medal of Honor recipient, yet few receive such recognition. We honor each of them and their willingness to lay down their life in service and sacrifice for home, God and country.
We salute them.