While enjoying the warm weather, a parade and a day off from work this weekend, take a moment to remember what the holiday means.
Medal of Honor Foundation Executive Director and Bowling Green native John Shertzer spoke to the Bowling Green Kiwanis members on Thursday as a special guest prior to Memorial Day.
“Memorial Day is not about hot dogs and barbecues, it is about remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Shertzer said. “Thank you for letting this be part of what you think about and consider as we head into that very sacred weekend.”
Shertzer is only seven months into the job with the Medal of Honor Foundation. While he did not serve in the military, he has found the transition from his previous employer, Kiwanis International, a natural one, because of the many similarities between the two organizations.
“Kiwanis has been a big part of my life, so getting to do work that is service minded, or service oriented, is important to me,” Shertzer said. “I was raised to be a very patriotic person. … Part of it comes from my parents, but a lot of it comes from being in roles at FFA and 4-H and being a part of institutions and organizations that care deeply about our country and what we’re trying to achieve in this country.”
Shertzer delivered a number of facts about the Medal of Honor as he explained what the organization does.
• There are only 65 living recipients, one of which is Navy SEAL Edward Byers Jr., a graduate of Otsego High School.
• There is only one female recipient, which can be partially explained by the Medal of Honor being a combat award, and women have not been allowed in combat roles until recently. Shertzer expects that statistic to change with the expanded roles of women in the military.
• Recipients are saluted by superior officers, including the president.
He added that most of the recipients are the type of folks who would throw themselves on a grenade, but whatever the story, it is in some way remarkable.
Those who receive the award are not called winners, but recipients.
“To a man, they will say they do not want it,” Shertzer said. “If it’s only that rare number that get them, you’ve got to imagine that once you receive that you did something pretty remarkable, but they carry with them scars of their battles, of their service.”
That is because most of the circumstances resulting in the award involved death.
“But they aren’t celebrities and they don’t want to be viewed that way. They are proudly representing what that medal stands for,” Shertzer said.
He said that the organization and its members believe that there is a values crisis in America and they want to correct it.
Working with the IPSOS polling firm, a study was done this year on the changing values of Americans.
• 71% of Americans believe that there is not enough focus on values and character traits in society.
• Nine in 10 Americans believe there are challenges to youth being able to learn values and character traits today.
Those findings are supported by results from a 2023 Wall Street Journal/NORC poll that found
“Americans who valued involvement in their community as ‘very important’ fell to 27% — down from a high of 62% in 2019,” Shertzer said.
The foundation also has theory of change, which Shertzer presented: “We will seek to instill values in the coming generation by transmitting values-based lessons and showcasing Medal of Honor Recipients as values-based role models.”
In order to make changes in society the foundation showcases the recipients as ambassadors of values, or values-based role models.
Many of the recipients do public speaking and the foundation also trains teachers in their K – 12 curriculum. In the 10 years that the foundation has had the program they have trained more than 80,000 teachers.
Prior to working for the Medal of Honor Foundation, Shertzer was the head of Service Leadership Programs for Kiwanis International, which includes Key Club International, Circle K and K-Kids. He is also a member of the Kiwanis Club of Northwest Indianapolis and advises their K-Kids club.
“My career has basically been working for organizations like Kiwanis. The Medal of Honor Foundation is similar, it’s trying to serve members, meaning the recipients themselves, but also in trying to do a higher calling, if you will, in trying to do a mission that really matters in our world today,” Shertzer said. “Kiwanis is trying to create more service and more fellowship around our country, and the Medal of Honor Foundation is trying to develop more citizenship and more value based learning.”