published Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Chattanooga leaders honored for helping others

John J. Spittler is introduced during a ceremony at Chattanooga State on Sunday to honor five Chattanoogans with the Four Chaplains Legion of Honor award. Dr. Jim Catanzaro, left, also received the award, along with the Rev. Dr. Paul McDaniel, Dr. Nell Mohney and the late Melvin Young.
John J. Spittler is introduced during a ceremony at Chattanooga State on Sunday to honor five Chattanoogans with the Four Chaplains Legion of Honor award. Dr. Jim Catanzaro, left, also received the award, along with the Rev. Dr. Paul McDaniel, Dr. Nell Mohney and the late Melvin Young.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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About 200 people packed Chattanooga State Community College's Humanities Auditorium on Sunday to watch as a minister, a college president, a civil rights pioneer, a Navy veteran and a scholar were honored for selfless service.

The Rev. Paul McDaniel, Dr. James Catanzaro, Dr. Nell Mohney, Jack Spittler and the late Melvin Young were named in Chattanooga's first Legion of Honor program as individuals who foster cooperation among people regardless of differences.

"Unity without uniformity," explained Mohney, 90, a Sunday school teacher and motivational speaker. She was the only female recipient at Sunday's ceremony.

"I'm very proud to be her grandson," said Wes Mohney. "I have big shoes to fill."

The program, established in 1951, uses the example set by four chaplains aboard the U.S. Army transport ship Dorchester, which was sunk by a torpedo in the North Atlantic on Feb. 3, 1943.

As the ship sank, the four chaplains calmed the men aboard with prayer while the lifeboats filled. The chaplains then handed over their own life jackets and drowned in the freezing waters.

Former recipient petitioned for new honorees

Sylvia Wygoda conducted Sunday's program. A Chattanooga native, Wygoda received the Legion of Honor award in Georgia in 1999 for her lifelong work with Holocaust education.

As a recipient, Wygoda was eligible to petition the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation last year to honor five Chattanoogans she thought should be recognized, she said.

"This is a learning tool that teaches differences amongst people," Wygoda said.

The program included a proclamation from Mayor Ron Littlefield and the awarding of plaques acknowledging their achievements.

• Catanzaro, president of Chattanooga State Community College, helped convert an all-white church congregation to include minorities.

• McDaniel has ministered in his Christian faith for six decades and also fought civil rights discrimination to become one of Hamilton County's first commissioners.

Modest in talking about the award, McDaniel was nevertheless pleased by the recognition.

"I hope I've been a good example of a commitment to the community across racial and faith lines," he said.

• Spittler, 93, former national president of the Navy League of the United States, established the Chattanooga Navy League. He has received a Bronze Star Medal for Valor and 13 battle stars, and established a health care scholarship.

"I would say this is a big event in my life, but one event rarely accomplishes everything," he said.

• Young, an accountant who died in 2009, was a passionate historian of the Jewish contribution in the Civil War and other conflicts. He loved the rich history within the Tennessee Valley, said his wife of 53 years, Sonia, who accepted the award on his behalf.

"He would have loved this. I'm honored for him," she said holding up the plaque. "He loved this country."

Wygoda said next year's ceremony could be held in February to line up with the anniversary of the Dorchester's sinking.

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about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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