Like no other time in my life, the nation’s highest award for military valor is finally receiving the wide-spread public recognition it deserves.
I have read, collected, argued about, spoken and learned any and everything I could find about the Medal of Honor, and at long last I see great numbers of Americans finally becoming interested in and being deeply affected by the courage, sacrifice and dedication of the United States military the award has symbolized for 150 years.
As Sun Tzu might say, “Now is the time to consolidate your position and advance in force.”
Yesterday’s post was about the latest award of the distinctive gold-colored decoration on a faint blue neck ribbon to Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer who will soon become only the 331st serviceman since Pearl Harbor to survive to actually wear the Medal; another 530 died in their Medal of Honor action…. that’s far more than half the total awarded. This single statistic more than any other is testimony to the lofty and rigid criteria and thus the rarity of the Medal of Honor.
In fashion typical of real heroes, Sgt. Meyer has recently said: “The main thing we need to get from that day is that (my comrades) died heroes, and they are greatly missed. This isn’t about me. If anything comes out of it for me, it’s for those guys.”
(Here I must depart a bit and extend my continued thanks to my good friends Doug and Pam Sterner of Pueblo Colorado whose website HomeofHeroes.com is the single best source of U.S. military heroism. Doug has forgotten more than I ever learned about the Medal and its Recipients, and his scholarship has added greatly to our nation and the fabric of our history.)
During a recent Face book discussion…. I pointed out how political the Medal can become:
“… one (of the many) thing(s) that annoys me about how the MSM headlines reports each new Medal of Honor: “Obama to present…”, or “Obama okays….” Keep in mind that decorating someone with the Medal is a great honor…. FOR THE PRESIDENT, not the other way round.
His is simply the last formal step in a long and arduous process from the battlefield to the White House. I believe lots of Recipients might have preferred to have an admired military commander present their Medal, such as often happened in WWII. (Yes, the Medal can be awarded without a career politician sucking all the lime light out of the room.)
Basically once the recommendation for The Medal makes it through the military chain-of-command, the Chief of Staff (each branch), the respective branch Secretaries, the Secretary of Defence and finally the President each has the ability to approve or disapprove.
It is very rare that a recommendation is rejected at SecDef.
Maddeningly, that exact travesty just occurred in 2008, announced ironically during the Medal of Honor Society’s national convention. See the case of Marine Sgt. Peralta in my post here.
Read the whole post but here’s a summary:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates rejected a Marine Corps recommendation that Sgt. Rafael Peralta receive the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life to save his fellow Marines by pulling an enemy grenade under him after being wounded.
A SecDef Gates-appointed panel unanimously concluded that the report on Peralta’s action that included the testimony of Marines who were eyewitnesses to Peralta’s heroism, did not meet the standard of “no margin of doubt or possibility of error.”
Relying on the testimony of a “panel” that included a Medal of Honor Recipient and two civilian pathologists, Gates concluded that Peralta’s actions were ‘involuntary” due to his head wound and thus, not deserving.
Yet in true politician fashion he was awarded the Navy Cross for exactly the same “involuntary” action. Yet logic must dictate that if it was involuntary, then all he deserved is his Purple Heart.
This news broke when I was in Denver for the 2008 Medal of Honor convention and I took a quick survey of the Recipients I knew… they were uniformly astounded that a Recipient would have a hand in judging another’s heroism.
The potential conflict is obvious.
As one put it gesturing around the patio bar where many of his peers were gathered, “I wouldn’t want any of these sonsabitches deciding on my Medal.” It was said with a grin, but he meant it.
Yes, politics (as with all else) has infected the process by which America’s highest and most meaningful military honor is awarded.
Perhaps a theater commander should be able to award the Medal at the highest level of the military, excluding the Secretary of Defense. Why is it assumed a politician would be more judicious in such an important responsibility than a career military leader?
Perhaps it’s time to change the process.
If your dead son was up for the Medal of Honor, would you want his comrades, through his theater commander to make the decision, or would you want some Secretary of Defense to have that power because he contributed money to and voted for the right fellow politicians?
That’s what Sun Tzu might call “a no-brainer.”
More on the Medal of Honor as we proceed in this long and savage war.