Gainesville High School student Asael Lagos was full of excitement Thursday as he greeted recipients of the highest and most prestigious military decoration upon their arrival to GHS.
Lagos was one of 30 students selected as a Medal of Honor Ambassador by high school staff to greet and escort 10 Medal of Honor recipients around campus.
“It’s a great experience, to be honest,” he said of the opportunity. “It’s very touching.”
Principal Melissa Hutchison said usually the student council escorts the recipients during their annual visit to the school, but she wanted to give everyone who was interested a shot at being up close and personal with military heroes.
“All grades were able to apply,” she said, noting students were selected based on character traits and how they answered questions on their application.
Lagos said he found out he was selected to be an ambassador on Monday.
“I jumped up for joy when I found out because I really wanted to do it,” he said. “I just wanted to show my appreciation to these brave men.”
Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, Donald “Doc” Everett Ballard, Melvin Morris, James Allen Taylor, Charles “Chuck” Chris Hagemeister, Walter Joseph “Joe” Marm Jr., Robert Martin Patterson, Robert Joseph Modrzejewski and Mike Fitzmaurice were led by the ambassadors to classrooms where they visited with juniors and seniors about their experience in the military.
Fitzmaurice told students he was in a packing house “sawing up hogs” when he learned he was a Medal of Honor recipient.
He was awarded the medal in 1973 by 37th President Richard Nixon for his actions while serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website, Fitzmaurice and three fellow soldiers were occupying a bunker when a company of North Vietnamese sappers infiltrated the area. At the onset of the attack, Fitzmaurice observed three explosive charges which had been thrown into the bunker by the enemy. He threw two of the charges out of the bunker and threw his flak vest and himself over the remaining charge to absorb the blast and shield his fellow soldiers.
Fitzmaurice said he loves being able to come out and speak to the youth who will one day shape the country.
“It's important to keep pushing patriotism,” he said.