For many college students, driving a Mercedes Benz convertible is a special occasion. But it’s even more special when your passenger is an American hero. Cadets and midshipmen from military service academies – U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy – had the privilege of escorting seven Medal of Honor recipients throughout the 2016 Military Bowl activities. They drove the Medal of Honor recipients in the parade, mingled with them at a reception at the Naval Academy stadium, and accompanied them down to the football field for the game’s opening coin toss.
Medal of Honor Recipient Harvey C. “Barney” Barnum rides in the Military Bowl Parade, driven by U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Chris Wilson
“It was not so much about the car, honestly. It was just having the time and being able to be along for the ride, as everybody continued to say, ‘Oh, that’s a Medal of Honor recipient! Oh, that’s such a great thing!’” said Chris Wilson, a “firstie” at the U.S. Air Force Academy, in his final year of instruction. Wilson drove Harvey C. “Barney” Barnum, Jr. in the parade. Barnum, a Marine Corps Veteran, was awarded for heroism in action at Ky Phu, Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam, in December 1965.
“The comments along the route were something, weren’t they?” said Barnum.
“It’s just amazing to see. For you sir, I didn’t see it faze you. You thought of it as thanking others for their service, for their time. And I can’t ever forget that,” said Wilson.
“That was the most expensive equipment I’ve ever had to take care of,” said Wilson of the Mercedes Benz convertible, in which he drove Barnum down the parade route. But it will only be the most expensive equipment he handles until he commissions in May and heads to pilot training. While they spent time together throughout the day, Barnum imparted some leadership knowledge on the future military officer.
“Being a senior, he’s ready to go out and put on gold bars. The whole thing I tell them all is never be afraid to try something. If it doesn’t work, stop, back up and try something else. Don’t ever quit. Take the word ‘failure’ out of your vocabulary,” said Barnum.
Medal of Honor recipient Harvey C. “Barney” Barnum and U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Chris Wilson
The idea of having cadets and midshipmen be a part of the military bowl happened when John Pomeroy, a 1970 Air Force Academy graduate, made the connection in 2011. He found out what the Military Bowl was doing with the Medal of Honor recipients and thought it would be a great opportunity for the service academy students to get to hear their stories first hand.
“It’s fun for both sides. The Medal of Honor recipients enjoy the young men and women in uniform. They enjoy interacting with them. It seems to be an experience they don’t normally get during the year. For the cadets and midshipmen, it’s just inspirational for them. I know one West Point student said this was one of the most motivating experiences he’s had at West Point. They seem to thrive off this type of environment,” said Pomeroy
Throughout the day the cadets and midshipmen got to hear from Medal of Honor recipients who served in conflicts that spanned over 75 years. Like Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, a Marine Corps Veteran and the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. Or the most recent recipient, Edward C. Byers, Jr., Senior Chief, Special Warfare Operator (SEAL), U.S. Navy. Byers, who is still serving on active duty, was awarded for heroism in action in Qarghah’i District of Laghman Province, Afghanistan. And Florent A. Groberg, awarded for heroism in action in Asadabad, Kunar Province, Afghanistan in 2012.
No matter which conflict they served in, there was a common message that they imparted to the future generation. Work hard. Don’t take shortcuts. Don’t get complacent. Rely on your training. Serve with pride and humility. “Stay out of your comfort zone as much as possible. The more you stay out of your comfort zone the more you grow as a person,” said Byers.
“These are the individuals that I’m going to be looking for to support my country when I can’t do anything about it, and really, to lead the way for my children as they grow older….It’s a great responsibility and they have to understand that. And they do.” ~ Medal of Honor recipient Florent Groberg
As past generations look to the future military leaders, they pass the torch that has been burning since the founding of our country.
“These are the individuals that I’m going to be looking for to support my country when I can’t do anything about it, and really, to lead the way for my children as they grow older. They’re going to be protecting me. They’re going to be protecting my family. It’s a great responsibility and they have to understand that. And they do. They made a decision at a young age to really be elite,” said Groberg.
“I love it because I look back and know what they’re going to be going through, and I wish I could do it all over again. You know, the future of our country lies in their hands. Us guys are getting a little gray; we gotta be able to pass on the authority and responsibility. And that’s what the military is all about. Whether it’s for three or 30 years, your life is going to change,” said Barnum.