Over the course of American history, the U.S. government estimates there have been 42 million people who have served in our military.
Of those, only 3,498 have earned the distinction of receiving the Medal of Honor. Even rarer, only 73 of those recipients are living.
Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward C. Byers Jr. is one of those honorees.
As our country prepares to pause on Monday to remember our men and women who died defending America, it’s also fitting to note the bravery of Byers. He paid a visit to WCHS students earlier this month to talk about the concepts the Medal of Honor embodies. They are courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity and citizenship.
Chief Byers displayed all of those characteristics on Dec. 8-9, 2012 when he was a member of a Hostage Rescue Force Team that stormed a site in Afghanistan and successfully rescued an American doctor.
In his Medal of Honor narrative, it says Chief Byers displayed “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
Chief Byers was reluctant to talk about the mission during his trip to McMinnville, but the Medal of Honor website presents a detailed description. It says:
“As the rescue force approached the target building, an enemy sentry detected them and darted inside to alert his fellow captors. The sentry quickly reemerged, and the lead assaulter attempted to neutralize him. Chief Byers with his team sprinted to the door of the target building."
The narrative continues, "As the primary breacher, Chief Byers stood in the doorway fully exposed to enemy fire while ripping down six lay-ers of heavy blankets fastened to the inside ceiling and walls to clear a path for the rescue force. The first assault-er pushed his way through the blankets, and was mortally wounded by enemy small arms fire from within. Chief Byers, completely aware of the imminent threat, fearlessly rushed into the room and engaged an enemy guard aim-ing an AK- 47 at him. He then tackled another adult male who had darted towards the corner of the room.
During the ensuing hand-to-hand struggle, Chief Byers confirmed the man was not the hostage and engaged him. As other rescue team members called out to the hostage, Chief Byers heard a voice respond in English and raced toward it. He jumped atop the American hostage and shielded him from the high volume of fire within the small room. While covering the hostage with his body, Chief Byers immobilized another guard with his bare hands, and restrained the guard until a teammate could eliminate him.
His bold and decisive actions under fire saved the lives of the hostage and several of his teammates. By his un-daunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of near certain death, Chief Petty Officer Byers reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
In his only comment about the mission, Byers said he was sorrow to lose a teammate in the rescue operation and added, “The Medal of Honor is not something you set out to get.”
He was bestowed the recognition by President Obama in February 2016.
Byers, 37, was born in Toledo, Ohio, and says a career in the military was always a priority.
“My intention was always to join the military,” said Byers. “I’m fascinated with military construction, guns and camou-flage.”
Byers is still an active member of the U.S. Navy with 19 years of service. As part of his Medal of Honor responsibilities, he travels to communities across the nation. In talking with WCHS juniors and seniors, Byers said he was impressed with their level of attention and the questions they asked.
WCHS executive principal Jimmy Walker has been wanting to get a Medal of Honor recipient to speak to students for several years and it finally materialized.
“We’ve lost our sense of pride as a nation,” said Walker. “Societal problems are one thing we deal with in education. We need to build character education and stress to students they need to take the time to do what’s right. Creating good, productive citizens is the right thing to do.”
During his visit to McMinnville, Byers noticed a poster of Bobby Ray Elementary hanging at the central office. He noted Bobby Ray is also a Medal of Honor recipient who is from Warren County.