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.