Recipients: Medal of Honor Greater than Acts of Bravery

Photo: US Army Capt. William Swenson at Belmont High School. 

The Blackhawk helicopter kicked up a cloud of debris, sand, and dirt as it descended from the cloudless sky to touched ground on Hittinger Field adjacent to Belmont High School on a warm, midmorning on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

The sophomore class, the school’s band and students with “frees” came to the parking lot to create a corridor for the day’s special guests who got out of the ‘copter with several people in uniform.        


The pair – an older gentleman and his much younger bearded companion – didn’t appear out-of-the-ordinary, both in business casual attire and ties as they greeted town and state officials, school personnel and administrators, teachers and student.

But there was one item each was wearing that distinguished them from everyone else; a distinctive sky-blue ribbon around their neck which hung a small, detailed star-shaped medal. 


For US Army Capt. William Swenson and Thomas Norris, a moment of valor and bravery during the chaos of battle, in which their selflessness preserved the lives of their fellow soldiers, have allowed them to wear the nation’s United States of America’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor.

The recipients of the award were visiting Belmont as part of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s annual convention, in Boston this week, where honorees spoke at 10 high school locations through eastern Massachusetts.

In the high school’s auditorium with approximately 300 10th graders who are taking current US History their sophomore year, the men spoke how the award is greater than the events that earned them the honor.

While many call them Medal of Honor “winners” assuming that the award is handed out as a sporting event, said Swenson.

“The reality is quite different. This award, with my name on it, allows me to fly around in helicopters. But this award is about everyone I fought for that day,” he said.


This award is representation of what is inside of each and every single service member and when they are called upon to serve, they push and they push and every single on of them has the ability, when called upon, to reach this status of heroism as a team,” said Swenson,

“So this award with my name on it, is a recognition of everything we do as a country. This is a representation of us, of our capabilities … and what each and every one of you can do with your future lives,” he said. 

“People think we are really something amazing, something special, but we aren’t any different than you,” said Norris, who would serve for 20 years as an FBI agent after his military career ended.

“We grew up the same way as you, went to school like you did; we just did something someone thought was incredible, put ribbons on us and everyone thinks we’re really super. But we’re not,” he said.

Norris emphasized that students should not just think of themselves but as a member of a greater team. 

“Don’t just always think about yourselves. Think of others around you and try to help them gain their goals they set.” 

For former Selectman Ann Marie Mahoney – whose husband was an Army Ranger in Vietnam while a son and daughter currently are serving their country – the visit from recipients was exciting for each student in attendance. 

“It’s good for another generation to hear what these guys did, the sacrifice and bravery, and to see them and talk to them. That is so important to understand what they did and why. It’s very impressive,” she said. 

Medal of Honor Recipients To Speak At Belmont High Sept. 16

Photo: Clint Romesha, a Medal of Honor recepient, will speak at Belmont High School.

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military honor, awarded for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. The actions by the soldiers, sailors and airmen to earn this award is heroic in every possible way.

Of the approximately 3,670 military personnel whom the medal has been bestowed since the Civil War, only about 79 are living today. 

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, three men who were awarded this highest military honor –  Tom Norris, a Navy SEAL who fought in Vietnam, Clint Romesha, a soldier from the Afghan War and Donald Ballard, a Navy Corpsman from the Vietnam War – will speak to mostly sophomores at Belmont High School about themselves and the courage, commitment and sacrifice they demonstrated.

“This is a really rare and unusual experience for our students and we are honored to have been selected,” said Deb McDevitt, the Belmont Public School’s social studies director and teacher at the High School. 

The honorees will arrive by helicopter around 8:45 a.m. and speak to the students from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., McDevitt told the Belmontonian. 

As part of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Conference being held this month in Boston, the society conducts outreach programs at area schools “to share their stories with students and educate the public with all the things they are able to do and lessons they learned,” said McDevitt.

The society connected with Belmont High School through an alumnus who is one of the 79 living recipients. Robert Foley (graduate ’59), who was awarded his medal for actions during his service in the Vietnam conflict, is unable to attend the conference but suggested his alma mater as one of the schools on the speakers list. 

“They contacted me to see if we would be willing to host and welcome these speakers and I immediately said ‘Of course!'” said McDevitt. “It was no question that we would do this.” 

The sophomore class was selected to hear from the men as the talk dovetails with the curriculum 10th graders are studying in General American History. 

“One of the essential questions we focus our whole year around is what’s America’s place in the world,” said McDevitt.

“When they hear these stories at the beginning of the year, students are going to have a much richer understanding of the wars the nation fought and the relationships and alliances we’ve had with other countries. This will ground their studies with real-life meaning for all the work they’ll be doing for the rest of the year,” McDevitt said.