Medal of Honor Project: New Grad Turns Student Experience into Job

Taylor Hathorn discovered a passion for promoting military veterans through her involvement with UT’s Medal of Honor Project.

Now that passion has turned into a job for the 2014 journalism graduate.

Taylor-Hathorn

Taylor Hathorn interviews Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta as Nick Geidner, assistant professor of journalism and director of the Medal of Honor Project, and Kyle Knell, senior in journalism and electronic media, look on.

The Medal of Honor Project is an award-winning service-learning collaboration between UT’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media and the 2014 Medal of Honor Convention, which will be held September 10 through 13 in Knoxville. Directed by Assistant Professor Nick Geidner, the project is allowing UT students to chronicle the convention and produce written, audio, and video pieces related to it.

After spending her senior year volunteering with the Medal of Honor Project, Hathorn has now been hired to manage outreach and logistics for the Medal of Honor Foundation in Washington, DC. She is working with the organization’s Character Development Program; helping with events, including the upcoming Medal of Honor convention in Knoxville; fundraising; and promoting the organization.

Originally from Kountze, Texas, Hathorn lived for a while in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, where her parents moved to work as educational consultants after weathering hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

“I have always had a very high respect for the military,” she said. But her admiration for veterans grew when she lived abroad and heard foreigners criticizing the United States.

“I had to do a lot of defending of the United States,” she said. “I had to take a deep look at our society and theirs. When someone is talking badly about something you love, you’ve got to defend it.”

Hathorn said she’d never felt she’d found her niche in journalism until she got the message from Geidner calling for volunteers for the Medal of Honor Project.

“He sent out this tweet advertising for students who loved the military and wanted to do war coverage someday,” she said. He asked students to submit a few sentences about why they wanted to help. Hathorn responded with a multiple-page essay.

Geidner was impressed and asked Hathorn to be the Medal of Honor Project’s managing editor.

One of Hathorn’s first interviews was Col. Walter Joe Marm Jr., who was awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly attacking an enemy position during the Vietnam War. He was in Knoxville in spring 2013, gathering information about the area that had just been named as the site of the 2014 Medal of Honor Convention.

She was surprised when her interview turned into a conversation, with Marm asking her almost as many questions as she could ask him.

“We just talked for two hours about your responsibility to society,” she said. “The Medal of Honor recipients are great men who have done so much for us. I thought, ‘I need to be doing something too.'”

Last summer, Hathorn, Geidner and several student volunteers with the Medal of Honor Project traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for the 2013 Medal of Honor convention.

There she met and interviewed medal recipients Sal Guinta, whose actions saved the lives of his squadron members during the war in Afghanistan, and Ronald Rosser, who waged three assaults on the enemy during a firefight and carried wounded comrades to safety during the Korean War. She also talked to Medal of Honor recipient Bruce Crandall, whose story of valor during the Vietnam War was depicted in the movie We Were Soldiers.

“The Medal of Honor recipients have this huge brotherhood,” she said. “It’s the coolest thing to watch these guys interact.”

Also at the convention, Hathorn got to meet actor Tom Selleck and interact with veteran journalists, including CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

In April, while in Washington DC to attend an event at the Supreme Court of the United States for the Medal of Honor Project, she got reacquainted with the CEO of the Medal of Honor Foundation, Ron Rand, whom she’d met when he visited Knoxville.

He mentioned a job opening at the Medal of Honor Foundation and asked her to keep in touch.

Hathorn had figured she’d go to law school after graduating. She’d taken the LSAT and gotten accepted into both the University of Memphis and Belmont University. But increasingly, she was thinking that law school wasn’t for her.

She called Rand and asked him more about the job at the Medal of Honor Foundation. That led to a series of phone interviews.

“Six minutes before my law school contract was due, they offered me the job,” she said.

Hathorn said she’s found a mission in sharing the stories of the Medal of Honor recipients.

“If we don’t get the Medal of Honor recipients’ stories, that’s a piece of American history that’s gone,” she said. “We need role models, so why not these men who risked their lives so we could have ours?”

For more about UT’s Medal of Honor Project, visit the website.

C O N T A C T:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)