By Kirstin Nichols
On September 14th, Arundel High students and Arundel Middle School eighth graders were visited by two Medal of Honor recipients. After the extraordinary presentation, students and teachers said they were left in awe. “I think the students realized how amazing those gentlemen were to the point where my 2B class didn’t want to leave. They just wanted to be in their presence,” Mr. Prescott, himself a veteran, said.
Operation Arundel, as described by student member Benjamin Hanke, is an “outreach group” and a, “program that helps kids who’ve transferred many times and helps them get used to Arundel. It spreads awareness for Veterans, for Veterans’ families.” Overall, he sees Operation Arundel as “a community.” Student member Camden Buckley describes it as, “a place that supports everyone no matter where you’re from or what you look like,” and saw the event as, “a learning opportunity.” According to Benjamin, the goal of this event was, “to educate,” because “these men obviously have very good stories to tell.”
The two speakers, Corporal Ronald E. Rosser and Lieutenant Brian Miles Thacker, earned their Medal of Honor through heroic acts. During the Korean War, 89-year-old Mr. Rosser disregarded his own safety and charged towards the enemy, which was firing upon him, with only carbine and a grenade. He killed enemy soldiers, and when his ammunition ran out, he ran back through enemy fire in order to collect more ammunition. After successfully using all of his new ammunition, he returned back through enemy fire a third time to, yet again, collect more ammunition. During this action, he killed at least 13 enemy soldiers. He also managed to kill soldiers not by shooting them, but through close combat.
He described the act of saving American soldiers while fighting off Chinese soldiers, saying, “some kid broke through too and he was wounded immediately. I picked him up, put him on my shoulder, and was walking down the mountain, and I didn’t have any ammunition and the Chinese were running down behind me trying to shoot me and bayonet me, but the wounded man down in front of me was knocking them down all around me. I got this kid into a place of reasonable safety and started crawling around and getting ammunition.” For most people, this would be the defining moment of a lifetime. For Corporal Rosser, it was one of many in a single day.
Lieutenant Thacker’s Medal of Honor was also awarded for going above and beyond in ensuring that the United States succeeded, even if it meant putting his own life on the line. When a North Vietnamese Army force launched a clever atack on the much smaller and isolated hilltop fire base, the enemy was able to penetrate the perimeter defenses, forcing the defenders to engage in hand-to-hand combat. In order to direct air strikes towards the enemy, he maintained a dangerous observation position out in the open so that he could do the best job possible. When the situation became so out of control that Thacker was forced to withdraw the remaining friendly forces, he stayed inside the perimeter alone to provide covering fire until everyone had escaped. Thacker then proceeded to call for friendly artillery fire on his own position so that his comrades could safely leave the area and inflict greater casualties on the enemy forces. Even though he couldn’t escape the area himself due to wounds, he successfully eluded the enemy forces for eight days with no food or water until friendly forces once again regained control of the fire base.
For close to forty-five minutes, the attending students and faculty sat in complete silence, taking in each and every word spoken. Corporal Rosser began with a simple sentence: “Ladies and gentlemen, what you did this morning was something I want you to remember all your life. You made a statement: justice for all. And, that’s going to be important in your life.”
Corporal Rosser and First Lieutenant Thacker left the audience with some life messages, not just for those who want to serve the country in the military, but for everyone in general. On the subject of teamwork, Corporal Rosser said, “there’s no ‘I’ in team. You have to get the ‘I’ out of it, and that’s the difficult part.” Of the war, Rosser says, “we died one at a time and survived as a team,” and when asked if he was afraid to die, he said “No, I’m not even afraid to live!” At times, he says he laughed in combat to overcome fear. He says this mindset guided both of the officer’s heroic actions-telling himself at one point, “I’m a dead man, I’m not going to worry about it anymore.”
Lieutenant Thacker shared a message of gratitude when asked about survivor’s guilt. “We all have it. It never goes away.” In order to cope with this, he said, “when you wake up in the morning you are grateful to the people who got you there.” He says this helps him to maintain a positive attitude throughout the day, and lessen the strength of survivors guilt by taking the time to remember those fallen each day.
The day after returning from the army, Corporal Rosser became a chief of the police in Florida, and remained there for six years. After finally resigning, he became a school teacher and taught for seven years. During his time as a teacher, he saw the good in all of his students. Of the students who misbehaved, Corporal Rosser knew that “most of them really were abandoned children still going to school.” Corporal Rosser has also done charity work. He says, “I have a children’s home where they have abandoned children and every year I give the kids money to go shopping. It’s no big thing to me but it is to them… It seems like I’ve been taking care of kids all my life,” he said
Due to their high-ranking status, both men have visited the White House many times, with Corporal Rosser having visited under the last 13 presidents. To them, being in the Oval Office with the president isn’t a big deal–it’s become normalized. In a recent White House event, President Trump asked Corporal Rosser how it felt to be in the Oval Office. As you can imagine, Trump was surprised to hear that Corporal Rosser had been regularly visiting the Oval Office for many years.
The event M.C., Mr. Prescott, stated that “It’s hard to describe, as someone who was in the military, the reverence you feel for those guys. It’s one of my favorite days ever at Arundel.” Of the event, Mr. Prescott says, “the first word is awe. Absolute awe of who those guys are and what they’ve accomplished. They are all that’s good in America and their presentation with regard to grit and honor and fortitude really hit home with me and I hope it did with the kids.”
Ms. Stawas, who helped to organize the event, found it, “really interesting to hear about their courage and their valor. They don’t see themselves as being heroic, but when you really listen to what they’ve been through, it’s so obvious that they put themselves last and put the betterment of others and the troops over them, and I think that’s a good lesson for all of us to hear.” She thinks, “the students were really impressed and interested in their stories,” as when the veterans left the stage and talked to the students,”it was a warm environment and I found students ask a lot more personal questions and wanted pictures, and I was so impressed at the end; there was a line of students who just wanted to shake their hands and I thought that was really cool that they had the respect and reverence for those gentlemen.” Mr. Prescott invited some veterans from outside who were also impacted by the words of these veterans. “Captain Viatto came, a friend of mine who’s a retired Lieutenant colonel…, and the three marine recruiters were here and they were in just absolute awe.”
While all words spoken by Corporal Rosser and Lieutenant Thacker were meaningful, one main message left the attendees thinking. Mr. Prescott says he was left with the idea that “you’re important. You will affect this country, future generations and you need to continue with what they’ve done. They said it numerous times.”