MERRITT, Okla. (KFOR) – On the shortgrass plains of western Oklahoma, the community of Merritt consists of farms, pastures, and a country school that, on this day, welcomed back a true returning hero.

“Thanks so much,” gushes M.Sgt. Earl Plumlee. “It’s so awesome to be back here. I don’t know what you think of Merritt. I’m super proud to be from here.”

The nation now recognizes Master Sergeant Earl Plumlee as its most recent living recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the U.S. Military’s highest award.

At a special assembly in the Merritt Oilers gym, Earl’s 3rd grade teacher came from nearby Sayre to hug his neck and give him a quilt.

His old high school football coach, Don Bradshaw was on hand as well, but still recalled him as the kid who rode his bike to every two-a-day practice without fail, and as the occasionally precocious kid he had to swat to keep in line.

“I might have spanked him a time or two,” admits the old coach.

“He was the last person to ever hit me with a paddle,” smiles Plumlee.

Bradshaw continues, “He was a good kid. He was all in.”

The current students of Merritt High weren’t even born when Earl left for the military.

Born in Clinton, his family moved to Sayre, then Merritt.

Young Earl grew up on a farm and in the oil fields.

He says he couldn’t wait to leave then, but one of his first requests as a Medal of Honor recipient was to drop by and pay his respects here.

“Coming back, it’s a flood of emotions,” he said. “I got tingles as we were driving into the school.”

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His weekend itinerary full, old friends who stayed around the Elk City area wanted him to see the new Arrowhead Community Center.

While there he repeated his account of the day in August of 2013 when Afghani insurgents raided his compound, heroic actions that earned his distinction.

“I rushed the nearest group of fighters,” he tells a rapt audience in Elk City. “I was shooting at them with my pistol.”

Plumlee himself, credits his extensive training as a Special Forces soldier, but also this particular, flat spot on the planet as the firm foundation for what came later.

“This all started that beginning, that core part of my personality is from here and will always be from here,” said Plumlee. “I like the idea of paying respects to the people who kept track of me my whole childhood.”

M.Sgt. Plumlee joined the Oklahoma National Guard as a Junior in high school, and joined the Marine Corp after graduation in 2000.

He joined the Army in 2009 and is currently posted with a Special Forces battalion in the state of Washington.

You can read more about his military history and the engagement that earned him the Medal of Honor on the official website.

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