Secretary of Navy visits air station

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus visited Cherry Point on Friday, presenting honors to retired service members and taking a flight in an AV-8B Harrier.

Four Marines and one sailor received upgrades in service medals during a ceremony at the base. Sgt. Nicholas Brandau, Master Sgt. Steven Davis, Lance Cpl. Edward Huth, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Atkinson received Silver Stars, while Sgt. Michael Mendoza received the Navy Cross.

The awards were upgraded based upon the recommendations of the Post 9/11 Valor Awards Review board. The board reviewed award nominations from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure members were appropriately recognized for acts of valor.

“It is appropriate that today we recognize these individuals for their outstanding actions in the face of incredible danger,” Mabus said. “It is also appropriate, that by honoring these five men, we honor the rest of you who fought beside them, and those who are still in the fight.

“This generation of Marines and sailors, like the generations who have come before them, are an extraordinary group of men and women who have given so much to our country, so much to all of us. You are the lifeblood, the legacy, and the history that is the United States Marine Corps.”

The Navy Cross is the second highest military decoration, while the Silver Star is third-highest decoration for valor in combat.

“It really doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. I think it means more for other people more than it means to me because all I did was my job,” Davis said. “But, I do want to thank all the service members I was with that day in Victory 1/8 Weapons Company. I’ll never forget any of them.”

Huth said when he received a phone call about the upgrade to his medal, he thought it was some sort of scam.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I had read that they were doing the reviews, but I never expected it, and honestly, it’s an honor. Just listening to the citations read for the other recipients, it was more of an honor to be standing next to them.”

He said the medal is simply recognition of the “band of brothers,” the Marines who served to his left and right.

“I think what it does is once you have received it, you have to look at it as a responsibility to live up to those others before you, the Vietnam veterans, the Korean veterans, the World War II veterans and the guys who have come before you,” he said. “You have to be an example for the rest of the country to show that this is what we should be, this is the example for everyone else.

“This is the greatest country in the world. We have our issues like every country does, but to be honest, this is the greatest country in the world, and I would absolutely lay down my life for this country.”

Mendozza said the medal shows that the actions of the Marines with whom he served were not forgotten.

“I had a ton of emotions going through me, whether it was seen or not,” he said. “I was just recounting the day, April 7, 2004, mixed emotions. There are Marines who are struggling. I can attest to that. It’s OK to reach out. It may not be a family member, but there are other family members, such as Marines, the brotherhood, who is your family. If you’re afraid to reach out to them, there are other organizations out there.”

Brandau called the ceremony humbling.

“I think it’s something that Marines do every day,” he said of receiving the Silver Star. “The Marines are one of the most noble organizations because they are based on altruistic values. The Marines truly seek to safeguard the people to their left and to their right, and that is the mission that’s in the Marines and that’s in our creed.”

Brandau said he was thinking of the Marines with whom he served during the presentation.

“The people I was with were the best people there is,” he said. “That’s everybody in the Marines, each battalion and each group, we’re the same. The training that we go through, the legacy that gets passed down, that’s what Marines do. They uphold the traditions that are passed down from previous generations, and those values are instilled, so the last words are I’m just grateful to be a part of an organization that puts others before themselves.”