On this Memorial Day, I want my grandson to know about a Medal of Honor recipient who sacrificed and served

Our new grandson, Henry Joseph Hernandez, made his appearance in the world several months ago. He is named Henry, after his great-grandfather, and Joseph for his grandfather, my husband Joe.

There are so many things we want little Henry to learn: love for his family, his friends, and his community; love for his country; what honor means; perseverance in times of adversity; how to live your life in service to others. These are beautifully illustrated in the lives of the veterans in his family who we will be honoring on Memorial Day.

Henry’s great-grandfather was James Henry Stanton, but everyone just called him Henry. He was an African American who served in the U.S. Army in World War II. This was a time when it was not easy to be a Black serviceman. But Henry persevered and proved himself.


When the war was over, he was sent to Germany to help with security at the Nuremburg trials. Along the way, Henry earned numerous medals and commendations. He reenlisted in 1948, which says a lot about his commitment to serving his country.

Two children stand in a field of flags on Memorial Day, in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 26, 2023. (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

In 1952, Henry was honorably discharged at the rank of sergeant. He returned home to Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where he worked in a steel mill and raised a family. My son-in-law tells me his grandfather was a very good man who was proud of his military service. He is a great role model for little Henry, his namesake, to understand love of country, perseverance and the value of hard work.

Two of little Henry’s other great-grandfathers also served in the Army. My father, George Showers (whose middle name was also Henry!) served during the Korean War, stationed in Germany. Joe’s father, Charles Crescenz, served in Europe during World War II, in combat areas. At one point, he was a chaplain’s assistant.

My great-grandfather, also named George Showers, served in the Union Army during the Civil war. He was wounded, and spent time in a hospital in Washington, D.C.


One of Joe’s grandfathers, Martin McLaughlin, was a sergeant major in the Marine Corps, training troops at Guantanamo Bay during World War I. His other grandfather, Carmine Crescenzo, was the first of his family to be born in this country. As the only son, he was expected to help his family, but in 1917, at the age of 28, he signed up to serve. He was not sent overseas, but drove an ambulance here in the States.

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Joe’s oldest brother, Charlie, spent 13 months as a combat Marine in Vietnam. And my brother, also named George Showers, spent 10 years in the Army as a postman, because people in the Army need their mail!

I hope that little Henry will learn from all these men that there are many ways to be of service. They are all great role models for understanding your duty and fulfilling it!


So often we think that veterans were always in combat, as Charlie was. But you can serve in many other ways, as my father George did. You can teach and train others, as Martin did. You can, like Joe’s dad, help with the religious needs of soldiers. You can deliver the mail.

Sometimes you might get hurt in the course of service, as my great-grandfather did. You might even have to risk your own life. Joe’s brother, Michael Crescenz, found himself in just that kind of situation.

FILE – A member of the U.S. military places flags at the graves of fallen military members on Memorial Day, on May 25, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Michael was killed in Vietnam in November 1968. He was 19 and had been in country for just two months. When his unit was ambushed and pinned down under fierce attack, he grabbed an M-60 machine gun and started charging. He singlehandedly took out three enemy bunkers before being fatally wounded. His actions cost him his life, but he saved many of his fellow soldiers, and he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1970.

I can’t think of a better example of courage and love for others for little Henry. Michael never got to have children and grandchildren of his own, but he does have the honor of being a hero and a truly great role model.

As Henry grows up, we will teach him all the stories of the veterans and service members in his family, and he will see what a noble, honorable thing it is to serve our country. We hope that he will learn to have respect for veterans, and gratitude for all they have done and the sacrifices they made.


Valerie Crescenz, a retired music teacher, is married to Joe Crescenz, who wrote the foreword for the book about his brother, “No Greater Love: The Story of Michael Crescenz, Philadelphia’s Only Medal of Honor Recipient of the Vietnam War,” (Casemate Publishers).

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