For nearly four dozen recipients of the nation’s highest honor for military valor, a whirlwind week of sharing their collective histories reached its apex last night in Tampa, Florida, with a gala dinner honoring their service to the nation.
The celebration was the penultimate event of the National Medal of Honor Convention, held this week in Tampa and wrapping up today.
“The gala was star-studded, and included remarks by Gary Sinise and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis," DJ Reyes, a retired Army colonel from Tampa who attended the event, said in an email.
Awards were presented to retired Army Gen. Joe Votel, FOX reporter Catherine Herridge, country music icon George Strait and Bobby Newman, owner of JC Newman Cigar Company and co-founder of Southeastern Guide Dogs Veterans Program, Reyes said.
But the “real stars were the 46 Angels on Earth who walked (or moved on wheelchairs) along the grounds of the Marriott Water Street Hotel and mingled with the nearly 1,000 guests and dignitaries,” Reyes said.
The gala followed a week of visits to local schools by the Medal of Honor recipients, a welcome concert, a Tampa Bay Lightning game, a visit to the JC Newman Cigar Factory and dinner at the iconic Columbia restaurant and a public book signing.
The largest gathering of Medal of Honor recipients since the 1970s, the annual event was staged this year in the Tampa area and featured 46 of the 70 living medal honorees .
Reyes, who served as an intelligence officer running the Joint Intelligence Operations Center in Iraq under David Petraeus in 2007, said he was thrilled to share a table with James “Doc” McCloughan, who received a Medal of Honor for his heroics in Vietnam.
“McCloughan distinguished himself during 48 hours of close-combat fighting against enemy forces, May 13-15, 1969,” his citation reads. “At the time, then-Pfc. McCloughan was serving as a combat medic with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, in the Republic of Vietnam.”
During the morning darkness of May 15, “McCloughan knocked out the RPG position with a grenade. He continued to fight and eliminate enemy soldiers. In addition, he treated numerous casualties, kept two critically wounded Soldiers alive during the night and organized the dead and wounded for evacuation at daylight, the citation states. "McCloughan is credited with saving the lives of 10 members of his company.”
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.