Email Ken Stallings   Heroism Denied

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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 situation.

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 negativity.

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 war.

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.

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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