Private First Class James Monroe was only 22 years old when threw himself on a grenade to save two fellow soldiers in Vietnam’s Hoài Nhon Province in 1967.
His family accepted a posthumously awarded Congressional Medal of Honor a year later. On Friday -- in advance of Memorial Day -- his family turned that medal over to the Wheaton middle school that bears his name.
"It’s really to inspire the kids. They are our future," said Michelle Monroe Gattis, Monroe’s niece.
Gattis took possession of the medal after her parents died. She has kept it in her Wisconsin home but said she always knew that it deserved a public display. She was visiting her uncle’s gravesite when she got a call from the school asking to put the medal on display.
"When I got the call, I knew it was a sign for the family and it was time," she explained.
Gattis presented the medal to School Principal Jason Stipp in a ceremony complete with a Patriot Guard honor ride and a performance by the Monroe Middle School band.
The medal will now become part of the curriculum at Monroe. Students will learn about the personal qualities of patriotism, sacrifice and courage the award inspires. The medal itself will be on display in the school office.
Students, faculty and members of the community on Friday lined up to catch a glimpse of the medal and learn more about the Army medic who died almost 44 years ago.
"The community came together," said Assistant Principal Susan Baldus. "This is bigger than we could have done on our own."
Monroe is not the only recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor from Wheaton. Last year, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Miller received the honor posthumously. His bravery during a firefight in Afghanistan saved the lives of his fellow soldiers and 15 Afghan Army soldiers.