SACRED GROUND: The ornate Washington National Cathedral is the sixth-largest cathedral in the world.
Brooks Kraft
The medal of honor community has a strong desire to help fellow service members. In 2007, the Society began rewarding bravery and commitment to the public good in American civilians too.

Every year the Congressional Medal of Honor Society members vote on the candidates of the Citizen Service Before Self Honors program, recognizing those who have performed lifesaving acts of bravery and those who have demonstrated extraordinary service to others for an extended time.
HEROES: Medal of Honor recipients (from left) Leroy A. Petry (the War in Afghanistan), Hershel Williams (World War II), Thomas Hudner (the Korean War, seated) and Roger Donlon (the Vietnam War).
Stacy Zarin Goldberg

The 2013 winners, seated with the Medal­ of Honor recipients at the luncheon, are Father Joe Carroll, who raised millions of dollars over 30 years for homeless shelters in San Diego; Marcos Ugarte, of Troutdale, Ore., who, at 14, rescued a 7-year-old boy from his burning home; and the father-and-son duo of Jesse Shaffer III and IV, who rescued flood victims after Hurricane Isaac in August 2012. “This program recognizes that the cloth of our nation is woven in its communities,” says Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia — the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — to the luncheon crowd.

For the Medal of Honor recipients, the civilian award and outreach to veterans are new ways to serve and to make their accolade into a tool. Romesha, the newest living Medal of Honor recipient, got his first exposure to the Citizen Service Before Self Honors program on this trip to Washington, D.C. “The American public and armed services are doing the right thing on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “It really strikes home that Americans who don’t put on a uniform still follow the same values that the armed services teach, like loyalty, honor and self-sacrifice.”

Honoring those who make the world a better place is an antidote for the traumatic, frightening experiences that garnered recipients their medals. “If we were assured there would be no more Medal of Honor recipients, we’d be satisfied,” Fritz says. “That would mean the world has found a way to negotiate over the table instead of over the rifle.” 

JOE PAPPALARDO is a senior editor at Popular Mechanics, where he covers military technology and tactics. While on assignment, he’s flown in a stealth B-2 Spirit bomber, toured underground ICBM launch facilities and been embedded with troops in Afghanistan.