Fort Worth Star-Telegram – With Medal of Honor Museum bound for Arlington, here’s how you can honor these heroes

By Ricky Mauch

Janine Stange is also known as “The National Anthem Girl” because she’s performed the patriotic song in all 50 states.

Along the way she was struck with a special inspiration, which is now the Medal of Honor Mail Call. It honors recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, most notably around the special day set aside for them each year (this year March 25).

And with the National Medal of Honor Museum on its way to Arlington, that city has become the hub for the program, which has extended its deadline for correspondence to May 31.

The idea for the Medal of Honor Mail Call, which is in its third year, came to Stange in 2016 after she was asked to sing the anthem at a luncheon to honor Medal of Honor recipients.

“Knowing that the audience would be full of Medal of Honor recipients, I did not want to go empty-handed. So I reached out to those who subscribe to my team, those who follow me on social media, and those who listen to my weekly segments on SiriusXM channel 6 with Phlash Phelps,” Stange said. “I invited everyone to ‘adopt a recipient’ by learning about them and writing their own personal letter of gratitude. I didn’t expect such a response.”

Stange and her team presented the packages of letters in military mail call style at the luncheon.

“The recipients loved it. Many wrote back to those who wrote them,” she said. “I feel those who took the time to send letters (some items as well) realized that they got a lot out of it. Here they were expressing their gratitude, but just learning about these American heroes was an inspiration for them. Because of the learning aspect, I felt this had to be something I did every year.”

Stange lives in Baltimore, but now that the museum is being relocated to Arlington, the letters are being funneled through there.

“North Texas communities, and Americans from every corner of the country, recognize the importance of showing appreciation for our Medal of Honor recipients, brave individuals who risked everything in the name of freedom,” Medal of Honor Museum President and CEO Joe Daniels said.

Daniels said letters have been received from over 30 states, and with people looking for things to do during the coronavirus shutdown, he expects that number to only increase.

Daniels said that while school classes, companies and community groups might adopt a recipient, the ongoing public health crisis has forced them to switch gears. Now, those who want to send correspondence can submit their letters digitally by visiting www.mohmuseum.org.

The letters and packages come from folks in all walks of life, Stange said. They range from young children who can barely write telling a recipient thanks for risking their life with the statement “I love you” to one man sending a candy bar, sharing something special with a fellow soldier.

Stange said it had the corresponding note, “I bought this from a commissary. It’s my favorite candy bar.”

Stange said she was always inspired by her mother to respect the military, and she has an uncle who received a Purple Heart honor after losing his leg in World War II. She also drew inspiration from a speech by the late President Teddy Roosevelt, also a Medal of Honor recipient, who said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

“It is something I try to live by, with the exposure I have in media and social media I’ve decided to always use that platform to put a spotlight on things we can do to express our gratitude right where we are,” Stange said.

Daniels was formerly president and CEO of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York. He said meeting veterans through that position reinforced his belief that listening to their stories is important. So is showing them appreciation for their heroism, which is what Stange’s program does, he said.

“Building the museum in Arlington and the monument in Washington, D.C. will give Americans from all walks of life the opportunity to use the examples of patriotism and commitment set forth by Medal of Honor recipients to improve our collective citizenship,” he said. “Actively engaging in learning their stories by writing them a short letter of gratitude is a tangible and logical next step, and I’m glad we get to partner in this effort.”

Throughout its history, 78 Medal of Honor recipients have come from Texas, Daniels said. Of these, five are still alive, including one in North Texas, he said.

During her years of performing, and now with this event, Stange has met many of the 71 across America who are still alive.

“Every encounter I’ve had with a Medal of Honor recipient has had an impact on me. I am truly amazed at how down-to-earth they are,” she said. “All of them emphasize the fact that we all have the same courage within ourselves to do what they did.

“When they are presented with their bundle of letters it is as if they are amazed people took the time to write them. They always talk about those who served with them — never taking any glory, always pointing to others.”

Stange said those who want to send a virtual letter or picture can upload it at www.janinestange.com/moh. Also, every day at 8 a.m. she is featuring a different Medal of Honor recipient by posting a photo and their citation, along with links to send a letter virtually.

“If you’re home looking for inspiration — or if you’re a parent turned home-school teacher, this is a great activity,” she said.

The links to watch for those posts are www.facebook.com/nationalanthemgirl and www.twitter.com/theanthemgirl.

The museum in Arlington is expected to open in 2024. As that time draws closer, Daniels expects Stange’s project to grow exponentially.

“With a location in the heartland of the country, world-class sports and entertainment partners right next door, and patriotic supporters working with us every step of the way, Arlington is the perfect place to build a museum for the whole country to learn from the valor and values of Medal of Honor recipients,” he said.