WASHINGTON – Wanted: everyday American heroes.

Recipients of the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest award for valor, are seeking examples of Americans who have demonstrated similar courage in their day-to-day lives.

During a ceremony Tuesday at the Lincoln Memorial, members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced a search for citizen-heroes who may be worthy of a new award – the “Above & Beyond Citizen Honors.”

Potential recipients can be nominated via the Internet. One finalist will be selected from each state. Three of the finalists will be chosen by the society to receive the honors, which will be awarded during a two-hour television special broadcast live from Constitution Hall on March 25, Medal of Honor Day. The chief architect of the project is Paul Bucha, who earned his Medal of Honor during a four-day firefight in Vietnam in which he and his men were outnumbered and almost overwhelmed. Bucha, then a 24-year-old Army captain, was seriously wounded in the battle. It was 1968.

Now 64 and a successful real estate developer, he and other Medal of Honor holders are convinced that similar courage exists everywhere, often unrecognized, among average American citizens. Their effort to find and honor such heroes is supported by former secretary of state and retired Army general Colin Powell, as well as NBC-TV, which will televise the special.

Heroism, in war or peace, is an act of defiance – a deed in which people “slam their fist and say, “No. That isn’t going to happen,’ ” Bucha said.

“It’s just an act that comes about; isn’t planned, isn’t necessarily understood. But it occurs. If you look at ordinary Americans, within them is this potential.”

Bucha was born in Washington, the son of an Army colonel, and trained at West Point. He now lives in Ridgefield, Conn. He is a past president of the Medal of Honor Society, which is made up of the 109 living recipients of the medal. A total of 3,444 people have received the Medal of Honor, dating from the Civil War.

Bucha said the civilian awards will go to people who have done deeds above and beyond what duty or job has required. The society will also award a single so-called spotlight honor to a person in the public eye who has helped the needy and supported men and women in uniform.

“There is a compassionate stimulus to the acts that we recognize as courageous,” Bucha said. “We take for granted so much of what others do for us. … I want everyday Americans to look around them, and among them, and find those that are extraordinary and let us know about them.”

There likely will be a honorarium attached to the awards, Bucha said, but the amount has not yet been determined.

“It is a celebration of service before self,” he said. “It’s that which you are not supposed to do as your duty is defined.”

People can be nominated via the Internet, at www.aboveandbeyond365.com. Nominations will be accepted through Dec. 16.

AP-NY-10-09-07 1317EDT

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