Newly elected Utah Congressman Blake Moore says he’s working on a piece of legislation that would honor some of the military’s most prestigious soldiers.
On Monday the Republican congressman, who serves Utah’s 1st Congressional District, introduced the “National Medal of Honor Monument Act,” with Democratic colleague Marc Veasey of Texas. If adopted, the bill would pave the way for the creation of a national monument in Washington, D.C., that recognizes all U.S. Medal of Honor recipients — a list that has just over 3,500 names.
Moore said the proposed monument will pay homage to the values the Medal of Honor represents, namely courage, patriotism, citizenship, integrity, commitment, and sacrifice.
For 150 years, the Medal of Honor has been the United States’ highest military decoration and is awarded to U.S. service members who have distinguished themselves with extraordinary acts of valor. Relative to other military decorations, the medal is rarely given out and typically goes only to soldiers who have far exceeded the call of duty.
“The giants of our republic are immortalized in Washington, D.C.,” Moore said in a statement. “And the unparalleled courage demonstrated by Medal of Honor recipients deserves permanent recognition so future generations continue to understand the sacrifices that have given us our freedoms.”
Utah has just five Medal of Honor recipients, according to the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs. The state’s list includes Mervyn Sharp Bennion, William Edward Hall, Brian Miles Thacker, Jose F. Valdez and George Edward Wahlen. In addition to the five Medals of Honor accredited to Utah, several other individuals with Utah ties have also received the award, according to the Utah VA. That list includes Bernard Francis Fisher, Edward Stanley Michael, Gerry H. Kisters and Frederick Jarvis.
Of the five officially recognized as Utahns, both Wahlen and Thacker have strong ties to Northern Utah.
Wahlen was born in Ogden and was a Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class in the Navy when U.S. Marines began an assault on Iwo Jima island, south of Japan. He was wounded three times in 13 days during the assault, and despite his injuries, worked to treat others who were wounded, according to information from the Utah VA. On March 3, 1945, an explosion went off near Wahlen, killing several Marines and breaking his leg. He crawled some 50 yards to provide first aid to another wounded soldier.
According to the VA, Wahlen spent nine months recovering from his injuries and eventually re-enlisted in the Army, becoming an officer and serving in the Korea and Vietnam wars. After retiring from the military, he spent a decade working for the U.S. Veterans Administration.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City and the Veterans’ Nursing Home in Ogden are both named after Wahlen. He died in 2009 at 84 while living in Roy.
Thacker is Utah’s only Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient, according to the VA. Originally from Ohio, Thacker graduated from Weber State University in 1969 and was drafted and commissioned as a First Lieutenant through the Army ROTC Program there.
While serving as a first lieutenant in the Kontum Province of Vietnam, Thacker’s base was attacked by enemy forces. He played a critical role in defending the base, according to the VA, sitting in an “exposed observation position” while directing airstrikes and artillery fire against the enemy forces. As much of the base evacuated, Thacker stayed behind to cover the retreat and became trapped behind enemy lines.
Despite his injuries, Thacker evaded capture for eight days until he was eventually rescued by friendly forces.