Always Impressive: In War and Peace
I followed a link to a a posting on another blog tonight. Over at Hot Air the post was about a Medal of Honor recipient, Col. Leo Thorsness (USAF, retired). He was endorsing his fellow POW, Senator John McCain.
What is remarkable about this man, Leo Thorsness, and all others who I have had the honor to meet, or see interviews with, is just how unremarkable they all are. And to a man, all I have met or seen insist they are not heroes, that whatever extreme act(s) of bravery they are cited to have done is just what anyone else, given the circumstances, would have done. All of them, again to a man, insist the real heroes are the men and women they served with who were not honored with the Medal of Honor.
A very good point was made about the Medal of Honor (and those who are awarded it) by President Ronald Reagan, in 1983. He attended and spoke at the Medal of Honor Society dinner that year. Here are his words:
“There was a recent article in a Newsweek magazine that made the point very well. A 40-year-old father with five sons noted that he grew up in a generation where the military service was to be avoided. The recruiting stations were places to stage protests. Now his eldest son, in college, wants to be all that he can be, one of the select few. Each trip to the recruiting office generates enthusiasm among his younger brothers, who are proud of their older brother.
The father wrote in that article, “My children somehow have settled on a place where it is their assumption that this country is right and just unless they are shown otherwise.” Well, his children believe the basic values that made America great, God bless them.
And here today, with all of you who believe those values so much that you went beyond the call of duty in defending them — many like you are no longer with us. They will be honored and remembered not just because you and they heeded the call of duty but because you and they performed above and beyond that call.
That’s the meaning of this greatest recognition our country can give. Wear it proudly, because it is so much a part of what makes America unique in all the world. Yes, heroism in combat is recognized in every nation. But there is something in this particular recognition that is peculiar to our way of life. Maybe you’ll let me illustrate it with a story.
World War II, I was in the Horse Cavalry Reserve, so it was only natural that when I was called up to active duty, I found myself an adjutant in an Air Corps post. [Laughter] The post happened to come directly under Air Corps Intelligence, so the general orders and all the citations from every branch of the service came over my desk. And I used to delay their arrival at the commanding officer’s desk while I slipped them under my blotter so that I could read them in the leisure of the evening — read those wonderful statements, those unbelievable statements of what individuals, all over the world in our Armed Forces had done, particularly those who were being cited for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
And some years after the war was over, I read where a man in Moscow had been awarded their highest honor, their gold medal, but apparently they don’t give citations as we do to tell what the medal was awarded for. This man was a Spaniard, had lived in Moscow for 4 years. He’d been a refugee from the Spanish Civil War. He was an interpreter. There wasn’t anything in that to warrant his getting the medal. I discovered that 8 years before that he had been in Castro’s Cuba, but apparently nothing there. But a journalist, who had the ability to research further than I did, came up with the total story. Before the 8 years in Cuba, he had spent 23 years in Mexico, in prison. He was the man who buried that ice axe mountaineers, mountain climbers carry in the head of Leon Trotsky.
And I found my memory going back to those things that I had read during the war, any one of them a thrilling story of heroism above and beyond the call of duty. But one in particular seemed appropriate at that time. A B – 17 coming back across the channel from a raid over Europe, badly shot up by antiaircraft, the ball turret that hung underneath the belly of the plane had taken a hit. The young ball-turret gunner was wounded, and they couldn’t get him out of the turret there while flying.
But over the channel, the plane began to lose altitude, and the commander had to order bail out. And as the men started to leave the plane, the last one to leave — the boy, understandably, knowing he was left behind to go down with the plane, cried out in terror — the last man to leave the plane saw the commander sit down on the floor. He took the boy’s hand and said, “Never mind, son, we’ll ride it down together.” Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded….
They in another society give their highest honor to a political assassin. We gave ours to a man who would sacrifice his life simply to bring comfort to a boy who had to die. I think that explains the great difference between our societies and the great significance of this particular award.
The bedrock of our strength is America’s moral and spiritual character. Peace with freedom is the highest aspiration of the American people. We negotiate for peace. We sacrifice for it. We will never surrender for it.”