(FOX 9) - Since the darkest days of the Civil War, U.S. Presidents have awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to 3,515 service members.
It’s the highest award for valor in combat, and now those honored with the medal will have their own memorial in the State of Minnesota.
"It’s an historic moment," Governor Tim Walz said. "When you hear about this memorial, it represents the values that these Medal of Honor recipients embody, the best that America has to offer."
The Medal of Honor Memorial has been in the planning stages for years. It sits just outside the Department of Veterans Services Building at the south end of the Capitol Mall in St. Paul.
Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Kelley was among those who attended the dedication.
As a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, Kelley was awarded the Medal of Honor after he saved the sailors under his command and the Army infantrymen they were trying to rescue when they came under attack by the Viet Cong on the Ong Muong Canal in Kien Hoa Province in 1969.
Kelley positioned his boat as a shield against the attack and suffered severe head wounds that left him immobile on the deck. But according to the Medal of Honor Society, he continued giving orders to save his men.
Kelly attended the groundbreaking for the Minnesota memorial when the Medal of Honor Society held its convention in the Twin Cities in 2017.
"In the years and generations ahead, Minnesota citizens, especially children, will be coming to this site and marveling over the stories of the recipients we honor today," Kelley said.
Part of the dedication ceremonies included a flyover of 11 vintage military aircraft including a TBM torpedo bomber, an F4U Corsair, and two B-25 Mitchell Bombers, all from World War II. The aircraft were all assembled by Jerry Kyser of the Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Charity. Keyser called it a special moment for the pilots.
"We from Minnesota have never been recognized from the national part, we don’t have a memorial, and now we do for all the Medal of Honor recipients since the Civil War," said Kyser.
Thomas Kelley told those gathered at the dedication service that the new memorial should remind them of the courage, patriotism and service to others that embody the essence of the Medal of Honor.
"These are qualities that each one of us can and should strive for to make Minnesota a better place to make our country of ours and example for the world to follow," said Kelley.