MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Twin Cities has the great honor of hosting our nation’s heroes who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is the highest and rarest military award.

To kick off the Medal of Honor Convention, officials broke ground on a memorial in St. Paul that will pay tribute to the 72 Minnesotans who have received the award. There are fewer than 3,500 total recipients. Seventy-seven are living, and many of them are in town for the annual convention.

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“It’s probably the most exclusive club, if you will, in the whole world,” Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Kelley, President of the Medal of Honor Society, said.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is awarded to those who have shown extraordinary acts of valor while risking their own life.

“These are prestigious men that have done so many great things for this great country,” HC2c Doc Ballard said.

As a Sp4c. in the Army, Robert Patterson received the award for heroism during an assault in Vietnam.

“They said I grabbed M16 some grenades ran into a bunker complex knocked out a machine gun bunker and RPG bunker, killed 7 and captured 8. The medal doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the ones that didn’t come home,” Patterson said.

That’s the sentiment shared by men who wear the Medal around their neck.

“We didn’t set out to be a hero, we set out to do our job as we were trained to do and do it the best we could,” Ballard said.

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The newer generation of recipients remains in awe of those who paved the way before them.

“To be an ant in a room of giants, that’s kind of how it feels” Staff Sgt. Ty Carter said.

Carter is the fifth living recipient awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“A lot of men died that day. This medal is kind of a shield that all these individuals stand behind and then I’ve been given the responsibility and the honor to carry it and represent them as best as I can,” Carter said.

The recipients want to instill patriotism in generations to come through sharing their values: courage, sacrifice, citizenship, integrity and commitment.

“We’re trying to tell the kids, and anybody else who will listen, you don’t have to be wearing a uniform to do great things and to be a hero,” Kelley said.

The recipients will visit schools while in Minnesota to share the Medal of Honor values.

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There is a welcome at U.S. Bank Stadium Wednesday morning. You must pre-register for the event. An autograph signing follows.