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This week it was
announced that a US Army soldier's nomination for the Congressional Medal
of Honor is being forwarded to the President with an approval
recommendation. Why is this significant for more than merely being
the nation's highest honor for heroism? It is because since the
current war started in September 2001, this is the only time a living
service member is being nominated by the military for the CMoH.
This has naturally
led many to wonder why despite over nine years of sustained military
conflict, and so many thousands of desperate firefights, it would take
this long. In fact, only six CMoH's have been so far awarded, and
all posthumously! Many have openly asked how this could be.
You can tell you are
dealing with government bureaucracy when you keep hearing the same answer
uttered over and over again when the subject comes up. The mantra is,
"Well, you cannot really compare this war to previous wars because the
nature of the enemy is so different."
Well, let us, for a moment, concede that point. But let's consider
another parallel issue and see how this one nomination illuminates the
How does that bureaucratic refrain explain why a single nomination process
has only just now, in June 2010, been submitted to the President for an
action that took place back in October of 2007! If that sort of timeline
had been in place during World War II, then not a single Medal of Honor
would have been bestowed in the ETO.
Sounds rather hard to believe, doesn't it? Well, allow me to explain.
Operation Torch was the US invasion of French North Africa. It took place
in November of 1942 and it was the first significant ground operation the
US military launched in the European Theater of Operations. It has taken
2.5 years for this single CMoH to get this far -- and it hasn't even been
approved yet, much less awarded!
If you add the same time to November of 1942, suddenly you are arriving at
the date of July 1945 and the war in Europe was already over!
Thing is, a number of CMoH's were awarded well before the war in the ETO
ended, and some for actions that took place during late 1944. So, what has
changed? Has the pace of information exchange changed? Why yes, it has!
But, it has changed via the computer age into faster processing of
information, much faster! So, how does that logically translate into
grossly longer approval processes?
Here is the truth folks, and the evidence is plainly clear. During
Vietnam, a number of CMoH's were awarded. Personally, I think every single
one was well earned. The problem, as I see it, is that we have a number of
stuffed shirts in high places within the military who seems hell bent upon
denying heroic recognition upon the troops in the field, and they have
enough supporters on the civilian federal side to endorse them. They care
more about denying recognition and in eliminating any follow-on
If you survived your action, you were never going to receive anything more
than a service cross, and even then, only after passing an extreme
background check into every ounce of your life. If you died, then after a
year or more of "careful" review, a CMoH might be awarded if the nominee's
life passed every sniff check imaginable, but at least then, since it was
posthumous, there was no chance of anything bad coming out later. Rumors
abound about a Marine who's CMoH nomination was downgraded to a posthumous
Navy Cross simply because there were some "questions" about his
immigration status! The official word given was that it was "questioned"
whether or not he rolled his body over the grenade by conscious act.
Somehow, I don't think the enemy who threw the grenade to kill him and his
buddies cared a damn bit about the Marine's immigration status!
Furthermore, his buddies in that room went on record as saying he rolled
onto the grenade despite being already gravely wounded, and this heroic
action saved their lives. A more compelling case for a CMoH frankly cannot
be made. And unlike the stuffed shirts making the discriminatory
conclusions in air conditioned offices, the fellow Marines actually there
had no questions whatsoever about their buddy's heroism!
With all these facts emerging, an entirely predictable level of public
questioning initiated. As more facts emerged, this questioning slowly
turned into outrage. The fact that after the longest single period of
conflict in American history, that only six CMoH's have so far been
awarded, is a disgraceful refusal to properly recognize the clear heroism
that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have shown.
Finally, the outrage became visceral enough that the same stuffed shirts
that selfishly wanted to guard the gate too tightly have become ashamed
enough to find someone very worthy of our nation's highest honor. The
problem is that there are many others who's nominations were downgraded
years ago before the outrage inflamed itself.
Those previous nominations are unlikely to be re-looked at unless the
pressure continues. Certainly there are many Congressmen and Senators,
some with combat experience, who understand the situation and describe it
precisely as I do here. I hope they continue the pressure. In fact, I hope
a mandatory review of all service cross nominations is initiated.
Some claim there was medal inflation during Vietnam. I reject that claim.
I wasn't in Vietnam, but I've learned enough about it that combined with
my own experiences in later conflicts, that I think the citations I've
read made the awards well earned. I personally think the only true scandal
will be the baseless denial of medals to the men fighting this current
The denials aren't merely a gross overreaction to a misperceived previous
inflation. Unfortunately, it also seems often naked politics has seeped
into the situation. Today it seems nominees must not only have earned the
medal through documented actions of heroism on the battlefield, but also
must pass some obsessed political correctness litmus test created by men
who never once put themselves into the dangers the nominees faced.
This brings us back to my original point -- the claim by some that this
war is different and that explains the gross differences. The reality is
that this war isn't really all that different. Firefights were a frequent
occurrence in Iraq, and are certainly increasing in Afghanistan.
Firefights are still firefights. Bullets still kill and wound and so do
explosives. Men pinned down still face the same desperate situation often
calling for heroic actions. Furthermore, it still takes raw courage to
stand up to the enemy in the firefights and dole out your own killing and
wounding. Ultimately, it takes the same courage to win these firefights
today as it did in previous wars. Anyone who's actually fought in war on
the ground fully understands this essential reality.
The only real difference is a desire to deny heroes their recognition.
Either by an inflated sense of guilt over perceived previous inflations, a
desire to diminish the role of true heroism in American society, or by a
hyper inflated desire to avoid any and all possibility of a current hero
having some skeleton in his closet, the reality is many brave men are
being denied medals that in previous wars they undoubtedly would have
earned, and earned within six months to a year of the action. They would
be living heroes today and able to earn the rightful respect and gratitude
their actions earned them. And, any skeletons that might actually exist,
would only prove once again that heroes are real people like the rest of
us, and that makes their heroism all the more precious! Yet, senior
leaders in our military and federal government have conspired to deny all
This fact is why the situation smells so bad. That smell lingers. And
while this hero remains untouchable by the disgrace, the smell will still
continue long after he is awarded his deserved honors. There are still
many men who's sacrifices have gone without proper recognition. Like all
true heroes, they don't seek these honors, but that is pointless. It is
our obligation as a society to properly bestow these honors, or else we
cheapen ourselves. So far, we have managed to become very cheap and the
disgrace is what smells.
-- Ken Stallings
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