TODAY   |  December 31, 2013

Medal of Honor recipients talk meaning of award

Matt Lauer sits down with four men who received the nation’s highest military honor, who agree that they wear their medals not for themselves, but for their colleagues and families.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a conversation with some of the bravest men i've met. all recipients of the medal of honor . they each served in afghanistan and colonel jack jacobs who served in vietnam and who is now a military analyst for nbc news.

>>> let's start with you sergeant. you know, i'm looking at you in your uniform and i'm looking at the medal of honor around your neck. when you look in the mirror and you see that medal around your neck, what do you think of?

>> i think of all the service members, all of those that have served and continued to serve and those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.

>> he's not mentioning himself, sergeant. is that the same feeling you get when you see the medal around your neck?

>> it is. when i look in the mirror and see the medal around my neck, it's almost embarrassing. i know what it takes for this medal and it is selfless service and it's others in front of yourself and when i put it on, it feels awkward.

>> is there never a time when you can look at this and just say, you know what, i did something in a moment in time that was extraordinary. i went above and beyond the call of duty .

>> no, you can't. i mean, i was decorated 45 years ago and you still can't do that. because you wear it not for yourself but for all of those that can't. you represent tens of millions of american men and women who sacrificed, who served so that we could enjoy freedom. whenever i put it on, i still can't help thinking about everybody else. there's no time limit on that.

>> do you think when someone sees you with that medal around your neck that there is a misconception they have about what it took to be awarded it?

>> there is. a lot of individuals who don't really know what the medal represents or what it is, they think that who ever wears it is kind of like a super hero but on a really bad day where everything went wrong, you followed your instincts and you did what you thought was right and for us, i believe that we had the fortune and misfortune of surviving when a lot of our brothers did not.

>> i've read extensively about what you all did on that day that everything went wrong. so raise your hands if you were afraid that day.

>> you know, i think that will surprise people. they don't think you could have possibly been afraid to do what you did.

>> it's not really a question of fear. if you don't feel fear then you don't really care about anything. there is fear there but you're choosing to ignore it because watching somebody suffer, watching somebody die is far worse than the danger itself.

>> outside of battle, what makes you afraid today?

>> my biggest fear is with my daughter. i have a 25 month old daughter. i received all of the rights, privileges and benefits to come along with that and i want her to have the same and i fear that she won't.

>> so this medal of honor winner is telling me that nothing compares to the fear, nothing compares to the fear you have as a parent.

>> my daughter is the most special thing in the world to me. one of the most awesome things i've ever done in my life. it's not about this medal . this medal i earned with 17 other guys and it's no more mine than it is theirs.

>> wait until her teenage years.

>> scary.

>> start saving money now.

>> sergeant?

>> i'm still active duty . i feel that i will fail as a husband or i'll fail as a father. so every time i leave the house or every time my daughter gets up and starts walking, i fear i won't be there to catch her when she falls.

>> sergeant, you look at that medal around your neck and i know your son, landon, had something to say about it one time that impressed you.

>> it's still one of my favorite things he's done in his life. they asked him, how do you feel about your father receiving the award, being at the white house and meeting the president? he took a breath in and he said, you know, i'm really proud of my dad for what he has done shs but i'm more happy that he saved some of his guys and they're still alive today. that made me the most proudest father probably in the planet that moment still today.

>> during the holiday season people are going to travel and go to airports and you'll see members of the military getting off and getting on planes in uniform. what should we say to those people when we see them? what would you like people to walk up to you and say?

>> i think thank you. i tell a lot of people that's one of the greatest rewards aer is ves member can get is a simple thanks.

>> we don't fight because we hate what's in front of us. we fight because we love what's at home.

>> let me end this by acting on the advice of four great men and i'll simply end by saying thank you to all of you.

>> you're welcome.

>> very welcome.

>> i appreciate your support, sir.

>> they are four great men and there's a lot of others that unfortunately don't get the honor they got who sacrificed an awful lot.

>> it is amazing the power of those two words. the words thank you when you see a service member.

>> and one that said we don't fight because we hate what's in front of us but we fight because we love what's at home. to see in their eyes the love they have for their families back here, we're grateful