KNOXVILLE—Graduate teaching associate Laura Lemon found herself in an interesting spot at last week’s Medal of Honor Town Hall at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
On one side of her sat her public relations students, eagerly taking notes to write a press release about the event. On the other side sat her father, Medal of Honor recipient Peter Lemon.
A doctoral student, Laura Lemon said her involvement with UT’s Medal of Honor Project began last year when she went to Assistant Professor Nick Geidner’s office for help in one of his classes that she was taking.
Geidner directs the Medal of Honor Project, which is an award-winning service-learning collaboration between UT’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media and the 2014 Medal of Honor Convention, held last week in Knoxville. (It included a Town Hall Forum in Oak Ridge on Friday.) Through the project, students produced written, audio, and video pieces related to the convention. Although the convention is over, the project will continue sharing stories about Medal of Honor recipients and become a model for other universities that want to partner with future conventions.
“I told Geidner that my father is one of the Medal of Honor recipients,” Lemon said. “He said, ‘What are the odds?'”
Lemon brought her father to campus for Medal of Honor Project students to interview.
Peter Lemon—now a retired entrepreneur, author, documentarian, and motivational speaker—was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1971 for his heroic actions in Vietnam. He was an assistant machine gunner in the U.S. Army on April 1, 1970, when his unit came under fierce attack by a much larger enemy force. Lemon fought off attackers with a machine gun and a rifle, with hand grenades, and eventually hand-to-hand. Though wounded, he refused to be evacuated until the enemy had retreated and his injured comrades were airlifted to safety.
This fall, Lemon had the undergraduates in her public relations class prepare media advisories and news releases related to the Medal of Honor Convention. They attended Friday’s Town Hall and got to meet Lemon’s father and other medal recipients.
“UT’s Medal of Honor Project is very special for me, as a teacher and as a daughter of a recipient,” Lemon said. “I want my students to understand true heroism. What my dad did was for the love of his country and to protect the freedoms we enjoy daily. I have been attending Medal of Honor Conventions since I was a young girl and have grown up around these brave men.
“Friday’s Town Hall on campus was an unforgettable experience, and I am thrilled my students were a part of it. As the daughter of a great man and professor of incredible students, it was a proud moment for me,” she said.
Peter Lemon was just one of several Medal of Honor recipients that UT students got to know last week. Medal of Honor recipients Clinton Romesha and Donald “Doc” Ballard participated in Friday’s Town Hall on campus.
They talked about their decisions to join the military and the heroics that earned them their medals.
As a Navy hospital corpsman in Vietnam, Ballard fought off the enemy to save his patients and himself when his unit was ambushed by the North Vietnamese in May 1968. At one point, he flung himself on a hand grenade to save others. It didn’t explode.
Romesha found himself in the midst of a 12-hour attack by the Taliban in Afghanistan in October 2009. He fought off the enemy, allowing wounded soldiers to get to medical help, and then recovered the bodies of numerous comrades.
The two talked about the very different receptions they received when they returned home from war.
Ballard was heckled, pelted with rocks and bricks, and spat on. He watched a fellow veteran get stabbed by a protestor.
Romesha told Ballard, “I left and came home to cheering crowds because your generation made sure that would never happen again.”
Both men said they don’t like to be called heroes. They say they wear their medals in honor of comrades who didn’t make it home.
Ballard recalled attending a military reunion when a young veteran—the son of one of the wounded soldiers Ballard had treated in Vietnam—stood up and publicly thanked him.
“He said, ‘You saved my father’s life.’ That was more meaningful that the medal,” Ballard said.