Four years ago, Attorney General Griffing B. Bell announced that David and Robert Christie of Thorp, Wis., had won the Young American Medal for Bravery for pulling nine people from a blazing wreck in 1975. President Carter would present the medal at a White House cermony, the press release said.
The Christie brothers are still waiting for their medal.
They and seven other winners chosen since 1975 never got their moment in the spotlight, much to the embarrassment of the Justice Department officials charged with administering the congressionally mandated program.
Although the law clearly states that the medals "shall be presented personally by the president of the United States," and they had been since the act was passed in 1950, the Carter White House never found time to schedule the event. In fact, although the 1978 and 1979 winners were selected, their names were never announced
Now Justice officials are asking President Reagan to take the time to homor the nine winners. "It would be a PR coup for him to show he cared, where Carter didn't," said one official. "Besides, it's required by law." So far, however, Reagan's schedulers haven't shown any more enthusiasm than the Carter folks did.
If the presentation ever is scheduled, there will be a scramble to find the winners, several of whom have moved since their heroic deeds. "We might have to get the FBI to track them down," a Justice official said.
"If they don't hurry up, they'll [the past winners] all be middle-aged Americans, "said Terrence B. Adamson, a Bell aide who said he wrote 30 memos to the White House pleading for a presentation ceremony.
Bell himself got into the act in late 1977 with a memo to White House counsel Robert J. Lipshutz. He noted that schedulers had tried to pass the presentation chore on to Vice President Mondale. But he didn't want to take the time either, and his office suggested Bell be the presenter. Bell said that only a "very strained interpretation" of "presented personally" might allow the president to escape the responsibility.
A year and half later, Adamson wrote a Lipshutz aide saying he feared critical articles would result if the long-delayed awards weren't presented. The entreaties fell on deaf ears.
In 1978 David Christie, who was 15 at the time of his heroic action, was in the Army and his commanding officer began writing Bell demanding to know what had happened to his soldier's award presentation. His pleas went unanswered, too.