On this day in 1969, most Americans were preparing to celebrate Independence Day. Our military was not so fortunate. Many of our soldiers were overseas, enduring the hell that was the Vietnam War. Indeed, two American soldiers would not live to see the Fourth of July that year. Instead, they would throw themselves on grenades, saving the lives of others—but losing their own.
Each man would receive a Medal of Honor for his action. Each would also inspire his peers in an unforeseen way.
No one expected Michael Fleming Folland to earn such an honor. He grew up in a tough neighborhood and apparently found himself in a bit of trouble. He even got sent to a juvenile detention center.
But it seems he simply got tired of the bad direction his life was taking. When he graduated from high school, he volunteered to serve in the Army. “He just decided to grow up and change his life and make something of himself,” his nephew later told a news reporter.
According to the nephew, the juvenile detention center that housed Folland now has a plaque on the wall. The plaque encourages the boys to turn their lives around and make something of themselves, just as Folland did.
Anyone can aspire to anything in this great country of ours!
The other Medal of Honor recipient, Michael Blanchfield, encourages the next generation, too, but in a different sort of way.
Blanchfield posthumously received his honorary high school diploma just a few years ago, in a ceremony witnessed by the students in his old high school. Blanchfield had dropped out of high school before joining the Army. He was then only a sophomore. He later earned a GED, but he never otherwise completed high school.
The teenagers in his old school watched as his family received the honorary degree on his behalf. The president of the Chicago chapter of the 173rd Airborne Association spoke of Blanchfield’s action, noting that “[t]here’s no training for that selflessness to save his buddies.” A local congressman was also in attendance, and he concluded: “We, the United States of America, would not be the nation we are if not for the sacrifices that you all have given us.”
What a terrific lesson for those high school kids.
Folland and Blanchfield threw themselves on grenades to save the lives of their comrades—and they did! But maybe they continue to save many young kids today, too.
So, tomorrow when you are enjoying hamburgers and watching fireworks, don’t forget the two young soldiers who gave their lives on this day so long ago.
Happy Independence Day!
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Mark Holmberg, Richmond Medal of Honor recipient – the story behind the headstone (CBS 6 News, Richmond; Jan. 30, 2014)
Medal of Honor citation (Michael Fleming Folland)
Medal of Honor citation (Michael Reinert Blanchfield)
Patrick Joyce,Medal of Honor Winner: 'He Saved Lives, Didn't Take Them' (Daily Herald;May 3, 1971)
Rachel Levin, Medal of Honor winner gets Wheeling High School degree posthumously 30 years later (Daily Herald; May 27, 2011) (p. 35)
T.D.H. Barnett, Michael Folland's Pledge To Be a Hero Came True (Richmond Times-Dispatch; Dec. 18, 1971) (p.1)