LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The Medal of Honor is the American military’s highest award for valor, belonging to some of our country’s greatest heroes.
The medal and many who wear it are considered legends. For decades, these legends’ stories have served as an inspiration for multiple films and books.
Medal of Honor recipients, Don Jenkins and Walter Marm Jr., brought their stories and inspiration to Forward Operating Base Gamberi during a visit with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Task Force Patriot soldiers Jan. 13.
“It was very informal; they spoke with us and told us a little about their experiences, and thanked us for our contributions,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matthew Goble, a geospatial engineer with 4th BCT. “It was humbling to be honest, to be in the presence of such people.”
Actor Stephen Lang, known for his work in Gettysburg, Tombstone, Gods and Generals, and 2009’s Avatar, travelled with Jenkins and Marm, both of whom are Vietnam War veterans. Lang has also had much success on stage. In 2003, he penned the play ‘Beyond Glory’ adapted from a Larry Smith book by the same name.
The one man show recounts the stories of eight Medal of Honor recipients from World War II, Vietnam and Korea, and enjoyed extended runs on Broadway and Chicago’s Goodman Theater. Lang brought a little of the show with him to share with the newest generation of America’s fighting men and women in Afghanistan.
“I know it’s important to [the troops] to get a perspective on tradition,” said Lang, “and when they’re meeting men like Jenkins and Marm, they’re meeting the best of the best.”
After a short tour of the base, the group made their way to Gamberi’s Morale Welfare and Recreation building where a formation of service members waited to greet them. Jenkins and Marm took time to offer the troops words of wisdom, while Lang addressed the group at large, thanking them for their service to America.
“The Soldiers, I know they enjoyed it; I know I enjoyed it; the leaders enjoyed it,” said Sgt. Maj. Donald McAlister, operations sergeant major, 4th BCT. ”Anytime you can see heroes like that and then a man like Stephen Lang, who is a great American, it’s a great event.”
The three dined and shared a few stories with soldiers in the unit’s Military dining facility. Afterwards, the party returned to the MWR building where a stage was set and an even bigger crowd of Service Members gathered.
Lang took his microphone, stepped on stage and instantly transformed himself into Vietnam War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Nick Bacon. Over the course of 45 minutes, Lang channelled the Arkansas native, as well as World War II veterans and medal recipients Vernon Baker and Daniel Inouye.
Lang gave the men and women at Gamberi stories so powerful that both Marm, Jenkins, and many of the Service Members in attendance became visibly emotional during the performance.
“Mr. Lang’s portrayal of the Medal of Honor recipients was amazing. He’s a very talented man,” said Goble. “For a while there I forgot who I was looking at.”
Lang says it’s easy to find the tool set needed to portray such legendary members of America’s armed forces.
“I draw my inspiration from what we understand to be the military way; a sense of discipline, a sense of mission,” said Lang. “To get out, to be able to say ‘thank you’ to the men and women who serve us, and also to bring something to them, hopefully, the whole adventure seems to be a worthwhile one.”
Once the production of Beyond Glory ended, the troops were once again given the opportunity to meet and speak with the three gentlemen. They signed autographs, took pictures and offered some final words to the 4th BCT Soldiers, ending an event many in attendance say they won’t soon forget.
“It was absolutely a great event,” said McAlister. “Any time you can get something like that to the Soldiers out in the field it’s outstanding, and I think the Medal of Honor recipients and Mr. Lang got as much out of it as the Soldiers did.”