Sometimes politicians prevail even in the Hall of Heroes….

Navy Medal of HonorLike 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.”Army Medal of Honor

(Here I must depart a bit and extend my continued thanks to my good friends Doug and Pam Sterner of Pueblo Colorado whose website  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:

Rafael-Peralta.jpgThis is what has become of America’s process to bestow it’s highest and most meaningful honor:

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.


About Gary Alexander

Volunteer coordinator for veterans support network in North Texas. Now retired from his private psychotherapy practice, I specialized in the diagnosis and treatment posttraumatic stress, working with victim assistance programs, veterans and the Veterans Administration for over 20 years. After being wounded in action in Vietnam, I was medically retired from the Marine Corps and know first hand many of the readjustment difficulties and psychological stresses experienced by today's OIF and OEF veterans. I am available, at minimal cost, to speak at your functions on several subjects including veterans issues, Vietnam, the Medal of Honor, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and critical incident debriefings.
This entry was posted in Heroes, Marine Corps, Medal of Honor, Veterans, War. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Sometimes politicians prevail even in the Hall of Heroes….

  1. Chris Profota says:

    Thank you for a very inormative and well writen article on the medal, the process, and the recipients.
    Chris Profota

  2. Chris Profota says:

    Is that Medal of Honor coin a penny?

  3. Hap Arnold says:

    While I am reluctant to disagree with someone who has forgotten more about the Medal of Honor and its recipients than I will ever learn, I respectfully do so here. My initial visceral reaction to the suggestion that perhaps a military theater commander (4-star general or admiral) would be a better choice to award the MOH was to agree. After having time to reflect and to re-read Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of our Constitution, I am reminded that ALL of our military branches have but one commander-in-chief: the president of the United States. While I have had and continue to have political differences with any number of occupants of the office, I will always revere & respect the office itself – including the title of C-i-C that vests therein. Therefore, political considerations aside, there can be no higher honor for the service member, his family, his service branch and the Nation than for the president to present the Medal whenever & wherever practicable.


    • Gen. Arnold,
      A thoughtful response… and my observation was of course not based in reality since the process since 1861 has and will so remain unchanged.

      Indeed only the President, for good or ill, can represent the whole Nation… or as I often say, “America always gets the President she deserves.” A troubling thought, especially now.

      The filligree of who presents (when practicable) The Medal is secondary, but not entirely divorced from the selection process now in place; several politicians (the temporary help) have decision-making authority over what is the most military of all military customs… recognition by ones peers through the awards process.

      Permit me a simple baseball anology: Having the “fans” select the All-Star baseball team members is … forgive me, bullshit. It’s a teen-magizine popularity contest ruled by 12 year-old boys and 30+ year-old men who live in their parents’ basements.

      Likewise when authorized by law, politicians insert themselves into the selection process and they are among those most likely to be swayed by… forgive me again… bullshit.

      Having a Medal of Honor decision left to nameless, faceless pathologists who routinely sell their medical licenses to the attorney who pays them the most, shows the ultimate disrespect of the military. “Corporal… you didn’t see what you saw…I know better, I’m a wealthy physician.”

      In what part of the Constitutional chain of commmand can I find the two guys who graduated last in their med school class?

      Secretary of Defense Gates did not make “the Peralta case” decision, these two asshats and one MOH Recipient (with what axe to grind) did; under exactly what outside pressures?

      We will never know. There is no in-place government oversight here in the only known such case in the modern history of The Medal. Is this just the beginning? Who knows…I never thought the government would own Chevrolet and turn it over to unions.

      Sergeant Peralta’s family was correct to refuse the Navy Cross under such conditions.

      We must also remember that a number of Medals of Honor were awarded during the Clinton Administration on the basis of race… African and Japanese-American; no matter how well deserved and how repugnant their original denial, the major POLITICAL driving force of those lobbying for the awards was, justifiedf or not, race…. simple as that.
      And like a fox in the hen house–Lyndon Johnson’s picking North Vietnam bombing targets and “McNamara’s 100,000”; at this juncture, I trust the military more than I do the temps.

      And yes, I recognize that such a position can and has been fraught with major historical consequences, but I know for a fact what the unfettered politician can and will do.

      Food… or perhaps fodder for thought.

  4. Pingback: Sometimes politicians prevail even in the Hall of Heroes…. (via LeatherneckM31) | My Blog

  5. Paul says:

    Great Post Gary,keep up the good work………..

  6. Bob Mack says:

    Great post, GA, thanks for the info. The grubby hands of the politician, most of whom have never been in the vicinity of hostile fire, should be kept as far away as possible from the decision making process on the awarding of the MOH. And I wish this quote of yours could preface each and every Awards story:
    “decorating someone with the Medal is a great honor…. FOR THE PRESIDENT, not the other way round.”

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