WASHINGTON — President Trump hosted the nation's most decorated war heroes at the White House Friday as part of a recognition of the rarely celebrated Medal of Honor Day.
"Each of you has risen above and beyond the call of duty in defense of our country, our people, and our flag. You have poured out your hearts, your sweat, and your tears like few others, and your blood — most importantly your blood — for the United States of America," Trump told about 25 Medal of Honor recipients in the Oval Office.
"You are the soul of our nation, and a grateful republic salutes you," he said.
In commemorating a day for Medal of Honor recipients — which technically falls on Saturday — Trump was resurrecting a holiday designated by Congress in 1990 but only officially observed once, on March 25, 1991. That was the anniversary of the first Army medals being presented in 1863 by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to to six members of “Andrews Raiders” for volunteering for a daring locomotive chase through Georgia during the Civil War. Except for a visit to Arlington National Cemetery by President Barack Obama in 2009, the day has been largely ignored by recent presidents.
The Medal of Honor is the highest military honor the nation can bestow — so high that even higher ranking officers salute those who wear the medal. There are now 75 living Medal of Honor recipients, a number that has declined over the years as heroes of past wars have died and presidents have presented fewer medals to service members from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Trump enjoyed endorsements of some Medal of Honor recipients during his campaign, and Friday's event could signal that he hopes to elevate the annual recognition.
"This is a great honor for me. These are very, very brave people standing behind me," Trump said. "I can say officially they are much braver than I am, O.K.? Do you agree with that, General?"
"I do, Mr. President," responded Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine general.
But cautious to avoid politicizing the Medal of Honor, Trump politely dismissed the honorees before speaking to the press about the defeat of a Republican-backed proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the official organization for medal recipients, presented Trump with Portraits of Valor, a book about Medal of Honor recipients.