06/01/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT
>• On Memorial Day weekend, the NBC anchor will salute the remaining recipients of the congressional Medal of Honor, whom he continues to feature on Nightly News.
WHY IT'S IMPORTANT We're down to fewer than 100 living recipients of the Medal of Honor. [They are] America's most highly decorated military veterans. They embody everything great about our country. So I work [on the board of the congressional Medal of Honor Foundation] to raise money and awareness.
THE SOLDIERS' HUMILITY To a man, they all say they are wearing the medal for those who did not come home. There isn't an ounce of selfishness in any one of them. I say at every gathering, "It's an honor just to breathe the air that you exhale."
TEACHING NEW GENERATIONS There are hundreds of graves of Medal of Honor recipients without markers. Now we're placing markers going back to the Civil War so people will know: Here lies a hero. In Erie, Pa., a struggling public school system, the board of education has found that teaching medal-winners' stories has turned [the students] around. When these guys show up at the school, they're mobbed. The kids want their autographs.
HONOR AMONG US [Medal of Honor recipient] Jack Jacobs is on our staff at NBC. Sometimes I look around the newsroom and wonder, "Do they know that the guy next to them is a piece of living American history?" These are living guys that we get to know. I get so much more out of it than anything I've contributed.