Before every football game during pregame meals with his players, Puyallup High School football coach Ray Brassard shares with them a story.
They’re stories of brotherhood and love. Of sacrifice and determination.
They’re the stories of Medal of Honor recipients.
“I’ll go up in front of the kids and tell them about a Medal of Honor recipient, and I’ll try to tie their story to something we’re going through with the team,” said Brassard, 40.
I’ll go up in front of the kids and tell them about a Medal of Honor recipient, and I’ll try to tie their story to something we’re going through with the team.
Ray Brassard, Emerald Ridge teacher and Puyallup High School football coach
Brassard’s commitment to sharing the stories of Medal of Honor recipients is why he was awarded the first-ever Medal of Honor Excellence in Character Education award at the high school level on Oct. 7 in Los Angeles. The award, which comes with $5,000, is given by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, an organization that’s dedicated “to educating and inspiring Americans about the values embodied in the Medal of Honor: courage and sacrifice, commitment and integrity, citizenship and patriotism.”
“The purpose of this organization is to perpetuate the legacy of Medal of Honor recipients,” said Catherine Ehlers Metcalf, the foundation’s vice president of education.
The organization was founded by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which consists exclusively of the living Recipients of the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that may be awarded by the government to servicemen who show gallantry and intrepidity while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States. There are a total of 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients. Only 72 are still living.
As part of the effort to spread the legacy and stories of the recipients, the foundation created a Medal of Honor Character Development Program (CDP) for teachers to use in their classrooms.
“For the first time this year, the foundation decided we needed to recognize teachers who are using the program in an especially effective way with their students,” Metcalf said.
Brassard was one of those teachers. A social studies teacher at Emerald Ridge High School, Brassard has been integrating the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation curriculum into his teaching since 2015, when he first attended training for the program at the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.
“I enjoyed being there so much and I learned a ton and it reminded me of the things I was passionate about in teaching,” Brassard said.
Brassard has never enlisted, but his father was in the U. S. Air Force for 23 years. Born in Nebraska, Brassard lived in Australia for the first four years of his life while his father worked at a satellite monitoring station there. The family then moved to Washington state, where Brassard’s father worked in finance at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Growing up, Brassard remembers going to watch the planes take off at the base.
“I loved planes and I loved the idea of the military,” Brassard said.
Brassard graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a degree in education, and has taught at Emerald Ridge for 11 years. It’s his ninth year as a PHS coach.
In his classes, Brassard shares the stories of Medal of Honor recipients to his students with videos and lessons.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to the recipients to share their stories with as many people as possible,” Brassard said. “There's an obligation, at least for me, to make sure their sacrifice doesn’t go unheard. This is just one small way I can think to do that.”
I feel like it’s my responsibility to the recipients to share their stories with as many people as possible. There's an obligation, at least for me, to make sure their sacrifice doesn’t go unheard. This is just one small way I can think to do that.
Brassard has extensive knowledge of Medal of Honor recipient stories, and says some particularly moving stores come right from home. Right now, tacked to the Medal of Honor Wall in his classroom, is a picture of Doug Munro, the only member of the U.S. Coast Guard to ever receive a Medal of Honor. Munro was from Cle Elum, and died during the Second Battle of Matanikau during World War II as he evacuated hundreds of Marines from Japanese forces. As he died from a gunshot wound on his boat, his last words were, “Did they get off?”
Stories like those move many of his students, Brassard said, and push them to make good decisions. After he first started sharing the stories with his football team, many of them wanted to hear more.
“When they started asking for it, I thought — ‘Oh, I should have one (ready),’” he said. “The fact that they were excited about it made it even better.”
At the award ceremony on Oct. 7, Brassard was honored to meet so many Medal of Honor recipients, and became emotional when they all stood for the national anthem.
“You’re thinking about all the things those guys did and I think that’s when I really realized who’s company I was in,” he said.
(Brassard) stood out as the clear high school winner for this first award. With people like him teaching this program, we’ll be able to perpetuate to future generations the legacy of the Medal of Honor.
Catherine Ehlers Metcalf, vice president of education for the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation
The Medal of Honor Excellence in Character Education award is also given out to middle school teachers. Next year, elementary teachers will get the same opportunity.
“(Brassard) stood out as the clear high school winner for this first award,” Metcalf said. “With people like him teaching this program, we’ll be able to perpetuate to future generations the legacy of the Medal of Honor.”