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An inconspicuous war hero

June 18, 2009
by Melinda Swenson

When Peter Lemon was tested in combat in Vietnam, he overcame the odds that he and his platoon wouldn't survive. After leaving the military he was told that college wasn't a good fit for him, and nevertheless he graduated from CSU and has since gone on to enjoy tremendous success as a businessman and internationally known speaker.

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Peter Lemon receives honor from CSU 

Three decades after his graduation from CSU, Peter Lemon was invited back as a Monfort Professor-in-Residence. Since receiving his B.A. at CSU, he’d conceptualized and owned three prosperous businesses and become an author and internationally known inspirational and motivational speaker.

In bestowing the honor of Monfort Professor-in-Residence on him, a Colorado State spokesperson said, “Mr. Lemon today is a dynamic public speaker who moves audiences with his messages about patriotism, self-reliance, persistence, sacrifice, selflessness, and courage.”

During his visit to campus, Lemon talked to a group of students in the President’s Leadership Program and told them the story of how he was admitted to CSU.

“When I speak to audiences,” Lemon said, “I don’t tell people how to live. I use examples and stories in my life or from the lives of others to make a point, and then lead by example.”

“Persistence and enthusiasm,” are messages he hoped would resonate with the students. “During the fishing trip of life,” he told them. “Bait your hook with enthusiasm and you’ll be reeling in success!”

What is courage?

If you ask Peter Lemon to describe the kind of courage it takes for a soldier to survive as a POW or endure brutal combat as he did, this is the answer he gives: “I can’t describe the kind of courage it takes. It takes on its own meaning, depending on the circumstances.”

He believes that everyone is capable of building courage and determination. “Stretch yourself through your decisions,” he said. “Then take action. You can do this for your own purpose or on a higher order… for others. We have to live our lives far beyond ourselves.

“America has provided all of us a very special opportunity: the ‘freedom’ to choose our path in life, to live our dream. But with that freedom must come the understanding that we have a debt to pay by contributing, even in the smallest ways, to the greater good of this country and mankind.”

We're never too young or too old

“We are never too young or too old for self-examination,” Lemon said. “It’s how we grow. We’re tested day in and day out with regard to our decisions.

"It’s through our choices that we find courage. That is the way we train ourselves. The military trains similarly, so that when the time comes, we will try to rise to the occasion.”

Book records stories left out of history books

Lemon’s first book, Beyond the Medal: a Journey from Their Hearts to Yours, is a collection of heartfelt, first-person stories and experiences of more than 90 Medal of Honor recipients.

Lemon provides a compelling sketch illustrating the valiant action that led to their receiving the Medal of Honor. Accompanying each story is a personal vignette - a companion piece written by each recipient, providing a glimpse into their private lives.

Lemon wrote the book because of an innocent question from his children. In referring to Medal of Honor recipients, they asked him, “Who are they, Dad?”

“If my children,” Lemon thought, “knowing most of the recipients personally, were curious enough to ask, then how much more obscure must they seem to the public at large? Being one of the youngest recipients, I felt it was my responsibility to capture the essence of these rare individuals.”  

Ross Perot funds film based on book  

After the book was published in 1997, PBS became interested in airing a documentary series by a similar name. American businessman Ross Perot stepped in to fund the entire project. Lemon was executive producer of the Emmy-winning PBS Documentary Special, Beyond the Medal, which was released in 2004.

Peter Lemon’s other notable accomplishments: 

  • He was honored by President Jimmy Carter with a Certificate of Outstanding Achievement for his community efforts
  •  He was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame
  •  He was decorated with many military awards, including the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Purple Heart
  •  He received the “Humanitarian Alumni of the Year” from his graduate alma mater 

President Obama bestows Outstanding American by Choice award

Most recently, on May 1, 2009, Lemon was presented the Outstanding American by Choice award at the White House by President Barack Obama to recognize his life of professional achievement and civil contribution.

It was the first time in history that the award was presented by the president.

A May 1 White House press release provides a record of President Obama’s words as he gave the award to Lemon: 

So now it is also my privilege to present a distinguished American with an award in recognition of the many contributions of naturalized citizens like all of you. It's called the 'Outstanding American by Choice' Award.

It's given to -- it's given by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and it is my honor to award it to Peter Lemon. And let me tell you a little bit about Peter. Peter was just 19 years old, and a citizen for just seven years, when he and his platoon came under fire in the Tay Ninh Province of Vietnam…

Today, Peter Lemon is a proud father and a proud veteran -- as well as an author and a filmmaker. And he has devoted his time and energies to talking about what his own experiences have meant to him and what he has learned -- to encourage each and every one of us that the way to make the most of our talents is to make a difference in the lives of others.

His experience is a testament to the men and women who have come to this country to build a better life for themselves and their families -- and who have, by their commitment and contribution, made America a much better place as well.

Please e-mail Lemon directly at if you have questions or if you have inquiries about the book, Beyond the Medal: A Journey from Their Hearts to Yours, or the PBS Documentary Special, Beyond the Medal of Honor (on DVD).

Contact: Melinda Swenson
Phone: (970) 491-2463