Boston will host the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention and Patriot Award Dinner for a fourth year.
Slated for Sept. 7-11, the event will bring Medal of Honor recipients into the city, where they will visit with public school students, participate in events and then attend the dinner.
Mayor Marty Walsh, who is expected to leave office and serve as President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Labor, made the announcement during a Friday press conference.
Walsh acknowledged his pride in welcoming back the 69 living medal recipients to Boston, which first hosted the event in October 2001.
“It’s a great honor for our city to host our bravest and most valiant heroes,” Walsh said at the press conference. “We hope that they’ll be able to host a smaller scale convention this fall, if and when the public health data tells us it’s safe.”
Come September, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society is prepared to adjust its plans or postpone the event in accordance with the city’s COVID-19 guidelines, according to a Friday press release.
Catherine Metcalf, executive director of education for the Society, said planning conventions and maintaining educational outreach amid the pandemic has been a challenge the Society is willing to take on.
Video conferences have already been able to replace traditional classroom visits for medal recipients and learners, she said.
“Frankly, even our 97-year-old [Medal of Honor recipient] does Zoom meetings, so we’re getting pretty good at that,” Metcalf said. “If need be, we will go virtual.”
Speaking at Friday’s press conference, Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Kelley said the committee was “delighted” to be returning to Boston.
“As soon as people heard we were coming to Boston, their ears went up,” Kelley said. “Boston has been terrific to us and we’d just like to thank everybody for their hospitality in advance and look forward to September.”
The Medal of Honor is the highest award for military valor in action and is based on six values: courage, sacrifice, commitment, integrity, citizenship and patriotism.
Those values play an essential role in the Society’s Character Development Program — a national youth outreach curriculum, Metcalf said.
“Perhaps teachers can use a lesson in their classroom and show a living history of the Medal of Honor recipient who’s going to be there and instigate some discussion and reflection amongst the students,” Metcalf said.
In addition to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s revised 2018 Framework for History and Social Science also outlines thematic goals for engaging students in civics discourse. Included in the framework is an emphasis on “rights, responsibilities, citizenship, a free press and the concept of the common good.”
David Ekbladh, an associate professor of history at Tufts University, said the medal allows recipients to be recognized for heroism without necessarily supporting the conflict in which they fought.
“[It] just allows you to focus on the heroic act, and the individual,” he said. “You can talk about the person, you can use it as a way of understanding sacrifice and valor, even in a conflict that the country might question.”
Despite the decoration, Medal of Honor Ryan Pitts, who received the medal for defending his platoon in Afghanistan in 2008, said recipients don’t consider themselves heroes.
“The heroes are the ones who did not come home,” he said in the press release. “We wear the medal to honor them, as well as all the men and women who have served and continue to serve.”