|TEAM VETERAN LEADER ...CPT VERSACE MEDAL OF HONOR
Our team elected to race in honor of CPT Rocky Versace
after a recommendation by CPT Paula Lang, Assistant S3 of the 439th
Engineer Battalion in Bismark, ND, and after reading of his incredible
will and sense of duty in “Five Years to Freedom” by COL Nick Rowe. At the time of this decision, we knew he was under
consideration for the Medal of Honor, but had no idea of how close to
completion the process was. We
saw CPT Versace as an individual whose incredible personal example made
an indelible mark on each of us, clearly defining the value of our
service to the nation. Our
focus was singular…to honor one man, a hero in our eyes.
During the application process for the Armed Forces Eco Challenge, and throughout our training, two events took place that broadened our horizons and taught us much about the uniform we wear and the strength of character of the men and women who have served before us. The first was the realization that Rocky was far from just one man. CPT Lang stumbled across the email address of Steven Versace, Rocky’s brother, while reading about the political fight for Rocky’s Medal of Honor, and, on a whim, she wrote to him about our team. Steven contacted us almost immediately. He was excited that we were to race in Rocky’s honor, even if he wasn’t exactly sure what exactly this Eco-challenge thing was. Suddenly we realized that Rocky still had a family out there, and they still felt his loss and were equally proud of his strength of character. Steven invited us to send a team representative to attend the presentation of Rocky’s Medal of Honor at the White House in July. We were overwhelmed. Not only were we thrilled that a 37-year battle to earn Rocky the recognition he deserved was coming to a close, but we were being invited to share in the celebration that was CPT Rocky Versace. The team selected me to attend and, on 5 July, I flew to Washington to participate.
On 6 July 2002, I attended the dedication of the Rocky
Versace Plaza and Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial at the entrance of the
Mount Vernon Recreation Center in Alexandria, VA.
Here I learned that an extended family existed far beyond what I
had imagined. In addition
to Rocky’s immediate and extended family, 89 members of the West Point
Class of 1959, Rocky’s classmates, had come to honor their friend. Numerous Alexandrian’s were in attendance because Rocky’s
name was not the only one to adorn this memorial:
64 other Alexandrians had given their lives in Vietnam, and each
stood shoulder to shoulder with Rocky on the bleached white walls of the
memorial, each beneath a single engraved golden star.
I learned of the “Friends of Rocky Versace”, a loose knit but
tightly bound group of men who had fought for decades to ensure Rocky
received the recognition he deserved.
Starting first with efforts to name a local school after Rocky,
they never strayed from their self assigned task and fought hard to see
the culmination of their efforts in the Rocky Versace Plaza and his
posthumous award of the Medal of Honor by the President of the United
Throughout the dedication ceremony and the day that followed, I was accompanied by several members of the Veteran’s of the Vietnam War, Inc, particularly Peter Forbes and Nancy Verespy. During the application process, our team had been blessed by the opportunity of sponsorship by their organization and we had developed quite a relationship via phone calls and email. Meeting them as well as their fellow Veterans, Chuck, John, Roger, and Dawn, led me to the second realization of the impact of what we are doing as a team. We, as active duty service members, have an inseparable link to the long line of soldiers who have preceded us. These men, these warriors, bear knowledge and experience, thoughts and emotions, to which too few of us modern warriors have taken the time to share and learn. Amongst the many in attendance, Medal of Honor recipient Roger Donlon, Heisman trophy winner and retired Brigadier General Peter Dawkins, and a role of legendary warriors I can hardly recount, I was the one of very few active duty soldiers in attendance, and I was the only company grade officer. Later, at the Medal of Honor ceremony, I met SSG Michael Keene who had driven non stop from Ft Hood to be in attendance. Eleven years ago, he purchased an MIA bracelet which bore Rocky’s name and hadn’t removed it since. We two soldiers stood as sole representatives of the Army of today. I felt the awesome responsibility to lessen the gap between us and the veterans who surrounded us. By representing the VVnW in the Armed Forces Eco Challenge, and elsewhere, we suddenly had an open door to accomplish this. This was no ‘corporate’ sponsor where we have to worry about media coverage and the almighty dollar…this was soldiers of today representing soldiers of yesterday and we have a sincere commitment to their goals.
After the ceremony, we visited the Wall. First by day, then by night.
We sought out Rocky’s name and took rubbings that will
accompany us through the race. Though
we have selected one name upon the wall, we will represent them all.
On the 8th of July, I attended the Medal of
Honor presentation ceremony at the White House.
It was a true honor to bear witness to this solemn ceremony.
Steven received the medal from President Bush in his brother’s
name. He stood before 13
television cameras and the blinding flashes of photographers, but was
buffered, protected by a loving wall of friends and family, who were
there to show their support. To
them, this was not a photo opportunity, but a culmination of years of
effort and the recognition that one of their own would live on in the
collective conscience of our nation.
Rocky’s courage would be captured in the history of our Army
and would never be forgotten for what it was…a true testament to human