CHARLESTON, S.C. — About 55 recipients of the nation's highest military honor gather this week in South Carolina for the annual Medal of Honor Convention.
Medal recipients will enjoy fellowship, visit schools, meet with Citadel cadets and hold their annual banquet.
They are an elite group. Only 3,450 medals have been awarded since the honor was instituted during the Civil War.
There are now only 87 living recipients, although there will be 88 soon when President Barack Obama awards the honor to Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta.
"We live in a free country and a lot of people made a lot of sacrifice to preserve it," said retired Marine Maj. Gen. James Livingston of Mount Pleasant, a medal recipient who is helping organize the event.
When visiting schools "we remind kids that freedom is not free and people have to sacrifice for your freedom," he added.
After medal winners make initial appearances in Columbia on Monday, the Charleston events begin today as participants ride in open buses along Charleston's Battery to attend an opening reception.
Other events during the four-day convention include a symposium at The Citadel with Citadel cadets, watching the cadets parade and Saturday's concluding Patriot's Awards Dinner.
Guests at the dinner will include Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz, former South Carolina Gov. James B. Edwards, journalist Peggy Noonan and actor Stephen Lang.
Although widely known for his role in the blockbuster film Avatar, Lang played the role of Confederate generals in the films Gettysburg and Gods and Generals.
Livingston was awarded the Medal of Honor when, as a Marine captain, he led his company against a village in Vietnam that had been seized by the enemy who had cut off another Marine company.
Although wounded by grenade fragments, Livingston refused medial treatment and led his men in destroying more than 100 enemy bunkers. The attack drove the enemy off and saved the isolated Marine company.
But when Medal of Honor recipients get together, they're not likely to trade such war stories, Livingston said.
Generally war discussions are in the context of current events — what's happening in Afghanistan or in Iraq, he said.
"Most of these guys are not interested in talking about what their experiences were," he said. "If they talk about it, they talk about it in terms of 'we' and not 'I'."
The convention is held annually around the country and was last in Charleston in 1992, he said.
The Medal of Honor Society and Medal of Honor Museum are now located aboard the USS Yorktown on Charleston Harbor.
Three years ago, a refurbished $1.5 million museum was opened aboard the aircraft carrier that not only gives tribute to the medal recipients, but gives visitors some idea of combat.
At the museum, visitors enter a hall to a multimedia exhibit on the meaning of freedom, they can see the medal itself and then enter the so-called Tunnel of Combat.
As visitors pass, they trip sensors that trigger sounds and pictures, which provide a sense of the chaos of battle in eras from the Civil War to modern-day conflicts in the Middle East.