Archives For medal of honor

Are we a society that no longer has heroes? Have we become so indifferent and cynical that men and women doing heroic things are seldom reported and hardly noticed, and consequently neither celebrated nor emulated? Are we now too sophisticated to become caught up in something so yesterday as a “hero,” while news coverage goes to thugs who shut down a campus speaker and perhaps even destroy property, all while behaving in ways that they themselves consider virtuous and courageous?

So, where did our heroes go?

Admittedly, it’s a stretch to find public officials nowadays in politics or academia whose actions would qualify as heroic. Our Hollywood celebrity culture provides an endless supply of shallow, egocentric, sparsely talented individuals who provide us not only with the fruits of their “craft,” but with their standard, spineless lecturing as their enlightened gift to the rest of us, the great unwashed.

The sporting world has become so soiled with cheating, pampered, self-absorbed athletes and coaches, and so driven by college and professional organizations that devalue longstanding virtues like loyalty and integrity, that past sports giants like Tom Landry, John Wooden, and Vince Lombardi would likely turn away in disgust. In addition, the corporate world has had its share of arrogant industry titans who have lied, bilked, and bullied their way to lifetime riches with astonishing collateral damage to their companies, customers, and stockholders.

There have been eighteen Medals of Honor awarded to American service members during the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and two more for service in Somalia. How many Americans have seen television or print media coverage of these men? How many Americans have seen the photos and heard the stories of all twenty? Or perhaps even two or three? Is this confirmation that we no longer have any heroes?

No, I don’t believe so.

Heroes are still among us. U.S. Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landing his stricken airplane safely in the Hudson River is one of them. So are the 343 New York City firefighters who climbed up those smoky stairwells and perished on that hard, dark September 11th day at the World Trade Center. There was 75 firehouses in New York in which at least one member was killed. Were these not heroes? Or the three young American service members who prevented a terrorist attack on a Paris train?

Americans still pull their fellow citizens from rain-swollen rivers. Single moms hold jobs, raise kids, and sometimes even go back to school. Dads teach their children about faithfulness, kindness, and sacrifice. Cancer patients, both young and old, fight back against their disease, often against overwhelming odds, and still give much of themselves to their families, churches, and communities. They are heroes, all. We are still a nation that needs it heroes, even without the high profile, to provide us with examples to follow, to cause us to remember our past, to give us reason for hope and encouragement.

I am a proud former U.S. Marine who marvels at the story of Corporal Kyle Carpenter, USMC, one of the twenty Medal of Honor awardees referenced above. In Afghanistan in 2010, Corporal Carpenter moved toward an enemy grenade to shield his fellow Marines from the blast. Kyle suffered extensive facial and limb damage and underwent multiple surgeries, not to mention enduring enough physical pain to last multiple lifetimes. And I couldn’t possibly comprehend the mental agony he has also bravely endured. After a three-year hospitalization and a medical retirement, Kyle became a college student. He is a survivor, a fighter, and an inspiration. He is a Marine, by God, in the very best way. And he is a hero.

So, it’s a fact that all the heroes didn’t get up and leave. They’re still here. Just like always.

Look around and I’ll bet you can find one. And when you do, thank them for staying.

For more on Kyle and other Medal of Honor recipients, follow this link.

 

 

GeneralDavis2Gen. Raymond G. Davis, United States Marine Corps, is one of the more legendary figures in the fabled history of the Corps. He was a combat veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was awarded virtually every decoration this nation can bestow for acts of gallantry, including the Medal of Honor. And he attained four-star rank when he was named Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps near the end of his illustrious career.

His Medal of Honor citation reads in part: “Always in the thick of the fighting Lt. Col. Davis led his battalion over 3 successive ridges in the deep snow in continuous attacks against the enemy and, constantly inspiring and encouraging his men throughout the night, brought his unit to a point within 1,500 yards of the surrounded rifle company by daybreak. Although knocked to the ground when a shell fragment struck his helmet and 2 bullets pierced his clothing, he arose and fought his way forward at the head of his men until he reached the isolated Marines.”

The temperature that night in Korea was 30 degrees below zero. He rescued his Marines and opened up a critical mountain pass.

When I was a Basic School student at Quantico, Virginia as a Marine second lieutenant in 1970, Gen. Davis attended a formal dinner for our class, by tradition referred to as Mess Night. I knew of his exploits in combat, and I saw the Medal of Honor around his neck and the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and numerous other decorations on his chest. He was soft-spoken, of average height and build, but he had the unmistakable presence and aura that great leaders exude, all without a trace of vanity or condescension.

When I mentioned to Gen. Davis that I was from his home state of Georgia, he asked what school I had attended. I knew the general had graduated from Georgia Tech, and when I mentioned that I had attended his school’s chief rival, he smiled and said, “Ah, a Georgia Bulldog.”

The years passed, and I now wish that I had arranged to visit him before his death in 2003, at age 88. I could have taken along the three novels I’ve written and we could have talked about the football fortunes of Georgia and Georgia Tech. And I’m sure we would have talked about the Marine Corps. What a rich wellspring of Marine history he would have been.

Thank you, Gen. Davis, for the remarkable service you rendered this nation in its times of need. You will forever be remembered by your fellow Marines.

A Marine Hero

September 16, 2011

Today former Marine Corps Corporal Dakota Meyer was presented the nation’s highest military award for combat valor, the Medal of Honor, by President Obama in a White House ceremony. Corporal Meyer’s Medal of Honor award is the first to a living Marine since the Vietnam War.

Disobeying an order to remain clear of a deadly ambush zone, Corporal Meyer moved forward in a Humvee driven by a fellow Marine to provide covering fire and to also evacuate several wounded against what was right on the verge of being an overpowering enemy force. Corporal Meyer entered the lethal space four separate times in the process of rescuing 36 Afghan and American troops, several of whom he personally carried to the Humvee for evacuation to the rear. After already performing well above the normal call of duty, Corporal Meyer learned that four of his mates were still in the ambush area. Making a fifth trip, Corporal Meyer again braved withering fire only to find that his three fellow Marines and a Navy corpsmen had been killed in the vicious firefight. “It’s what Marines do,” he replied when asked why he moved forward when others stayed back.

At the time, Corporal Meyer was 21 years old.

Like other Medal of Honor awardees, Corporal Meyer insists he is hardly a hero. He says he will accept and wear the medal to honor the Marines he served with, especially his four buddies who died. “The worst day of my life,” he says of his profound sense of loss. “I feel like I failed them and failed their families.”

My gosh. A failure?

This young man made five trips into what was a hot combat hell, with 36 men alive today based directly upon what he did. He drove out under the threat of likely violent death five different times. He tore into the enemy with the ferocity of an enraged United States Marine, the flashing of his weapon the last sight many of his Taliban ambushers probably ever saw. He left his position several times to bring wounded to his vehicle. He himself was wounded. He left no one on the field. All of this after having been ordered to stay put.

A failure?

No. A warrior.

One hears the term “warrior” these days to describe athletes and others who play games. The word’s use is widespread and gratuitous, much like the young use “amazing” to describe anyone or anything only slightly above ordinariness. To see an NFL wide receiver thumping his chest after a routinely “amazing” play and hear him characterized as a “warrior” is ludicrous when compared to a real warrior like Corporal Dakota Meyer.

That our nation produces such courageous, selfless people as Dakota Meyer should make us ALL better. You have the gratitude of this former Marine for what you did and who you are.

Semper Fi, my young brother.