Alexis Martinez, senior history major, wrote a letter for a Medal of Honor recipient that was passed by the U.S. House and the Senate last May.
Martinez wrote the letter to advocate for a veteran who mistakenly received the silver star instead of the Medal of Honor in 1968. She knew of the proposed recipient, Dwight W. Birdwell, through her grandfather, who served alongside Birdwell in Vietnam.
Her letter summarized and expanded on the contents of past letters written by veterans which had been rejected because of lack of documentation. “I was not very hopeful because of past rejections, but after hearing the story again, I really wanted to do as much as I possibly could to help the man receive what he deserves,” Martinez explained.
Martinez had the opportunity to hear Birdwell’s side of the story through interviews. She said it was amazing getting to know Birdwell and joining an effort to help him that has lasted the past ten years. Much of Martinez’s knowledge about what happened in Vietnam also came through listening to stories told by her grandfather.
According to Martinez, her grandfather was incredibly important in the research process because “he reached out to synthesize and refocus things people wrote in the past in a new voice.” Her grandfather was both the inspiration for writing this letter and the one to share the news with Martinez that Congress has passed it.
One of the main reasons Martinez decided to major in history was because of her close relationship with her grandfather. “My grandpa would tell me stories of his life and I loved listening,” Martinez described. WWU has helped continue her interest in history: “I fell in love with the professors and history department and developed a skill set from there,” Martinez said.
The research process for creating the Medal of Honor proposal included a mix of her history knowledge and writing skills learned through her English minor. A combination of listening to stories, looking at historian’s take on the event, and reading the past letters written by veterans helped Martinez perfect the letter.
Not only was Martinez’s letter reviewed by Congress, it was also published in the newspaper of the Cherokee nation, Charity Phoenix.
Martinez’s letter has gone further than previous proposals for upgrading Birdwell’s silver star to a Medal of Honor. The last step is waiting for the president to read the letter. “It was an honor to be involved in an effort this big and something so meaningful,” Martinez noted.
Posted on February 8, 2022