I’m not sure why it is that the US Government cannot bring itself to honor those it puts in harm’s way until forced to by the court of public opinion or shamed into it. Our erstwhile member, Veteran Butch Long, whom we advocated for, and finally succeeded, also endured this interminable wait.
Maple Syrup Frank of the miniature state of Vermont, sends us this interesting tidbit. Marines at an adjacent firebase north of Da Nang inadvertently shot down a Chinook CH-46 with four aboard after their resupply mission to an LZ. I suppose it could also be said that the chopper crew might have run into the 155 howitzer round. However, there is no confirmation yet that Brian Williams was in the Chinook right behind it and hit by shrapnel from the artillery round. You know how those pseudo -combat Marine types are always chasing a headline and looking for medals. In this case, the Marine hierarchy decided to cover up what was undoubtedly going to be some bad PR at the time by simply denying the awards. To continue to do so in the ensuing years long after the Southeast Asia War Games concluded was simply over the top. REMFs often get that feeling of dread and are paralyzed from the neck up when faced with these decisions decades later. The tired axiom of “let sleeping dogs lie” seems to be their motto.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please belatedly welcome (clockwise from top left) Dan Jones, Raymond W. Templeton, Glenn J. Zamorski and Conrad Lerman to the pantheon of Purple Heart recipients long overdue.
With the decision in Ft. Hood, Texas to award Purple Hearts to all the wounded and dead at the hands of the crazy raghead Major, it only seems natural that this 48-year holdover be settled and the debt to America’s fallen paid in full. Actually, in 1993, Congress opted to do away with this and award the medal regardless of whose bullets were involved. How in good conscience could you put troops in harm’s way in any conflict (or war) and deny them a medal based on it being the wrong flavor of ordnance fired by the wrong party? From my own personal experience, I have observed that bullets are notorious for being equal opportunity seekers. Some Poohbah figured this out in Iraqistan and made the magnanimous gesture of mis-awarding it (in the Military’s tortured mind) while others were denied under like circumstances.
The downside is that eventually Purple Hearts will be awarded for ingrown toenail owies that occur in near-combat situations. I can’t say Ft. Hood was a combat environment no matter how much it might of felt like it. Make no mistake. I do not imply that the medal should or should not have been awarded to those wounded and killed by Major Hassan. I merely point out the circumstances (non-combat) do not remotely qualify them for the award. By this metric, the medal could, in the future, lose any intrinsic meaning of the sacrifice involved prior to the actual wound. This disturbs me. The award of the medal had gradually been relaxed in a meaningful manner and the award for friendly fire was well within the parameters of what most would constitute a logical interpretation. In the heat of combat, bad things happen to good folks. When we got a FRAG order for TIC (troops in contact) and rushed to a beleaguered Lima Site, we tried to be as careful as possible when marking it for the airstrike. Napalm respects no one-friend or foe. Shit happens. To deny a medal simply because the wrong troops administered the ordnance is certainly not what Gen. George Washington envisioned when he created the medal.
As we know Secretary Chuck Hagel was faced with this dilemma in the formative stages of the new medal for drone operators which would have ranked above a Bronze Star. Would choking on M&Ms or spilling Mountain Dew on your tunic further entitle you to a V for Valor as well? You can see where I am heading with this. A Purple Heart implies much more than the cloth and the color. It is (or used to be) testimony to bravery under fire much like a Combat Infantry Badge where you have the misfortune to incur a permanent mental reminder of your encounter rather than a mere stain on your uniform.
Constantly moving the goal posts for any medal criteria cheapens them for all those who came before. Perhaps it would be smarter to create a “friendly fire” medal for those rare folks who encounter this at the Fort Hoods across the fruited plain. Mayhap even a similar (or the same) medal for those near-combat experiences in the rear echelons like Kuwait where the potential, imminent threat of violence was ever-present from… well…from someone or something. Perhaps food poisoning from MREs? I have read there are cases of Vets filing for PTSD in these circumstances. I make no judgement on their choice to file or their belief they were irreparably and permanently injured/harmed. I merely employ my “Devil’s advocate” argument to bring it up for discussion.
Medals, as a whole, are a throwback to chivalry, knighthood and honor in battle. They have gradually segued into somewhat of a necessity. Anyone who was near the conflict suddenly is awarded a medal simply for being in the vicinity. That progressed into numerous “campaign ribbons” from various countries on top of America’s recognition. Thus Vietnam Veterans sport the VSM, the VCM and the Cross of Gallantry. Those who fought in Europe in WW2 were awarded the ETO campaign as well as a Victory in Europe medal in addition to any awards for individual bravery. I call this the “Everybody was impacted” syndrome. It must be good for morale. Conversely, I cannot say the prospect of a MOH for jumping on a hand grenade would be an inducement to do so. Everyone’s hero meter has a different setting. In Vietnam, I witnessed the phenomenon of both troops running towards the sound of gunfire as well as the obverse.
This approach to medals eerily reminds me of the proclivity among youth sports leagues nowadays. In the nineties, my son played soccer. One year, they ceased awarding trophies to only the most successful team at the end of the season. In lieu of this, all teams were given the same size trophy as a “participant” so Jane’s and Johnny’s feelings wouldn’t be irreparably damaged and their psyche forever rent asunder by the failure to be a winner. What the hey? Everyone’s a winner. 14 missions on the soccer field and a campaign medal for participation. Onward for St. George! God sends the Right!
Mind you, this is my opinion. I come from the old world metric that says a military medal should be a reward for a given action- especially a heroic one. By rights, the more heroic the action, the higher the award should be. At this rate, the town of Sandy Hook, Connecticut will be awarding Medals of Honor for the poor children struck down by that insane Lanza fellow. Eventually, every town in America will be striking their own for their citizens and policemen. Wait. They already do. Hell, many of you may have already won an award and are simply unaware of it.
If you fall off the top of a bunker while star gazing due to incoming and break a leg that is legitimate PH. If the injury is caused directly or indirectly by enemy fire then the guy should get the PH. I don’t know exactly what a PH caused indirectly by enemy fire might be? It could be almost anything. Maybe I am putting my own interpretation on the rules for PH.
A good friend who will remain nameless was opening a can of jam (c-rats) with his trusty P-38 when an incoming B-40 interrupted our “breakfast”. He cut his hand on the lid of the can. Yep. PH for SFW. Hey, It could have been flying shrapnel. Who’s to say? Seems I would have heard it. I testified in his behalf. He would have for me.
Napoleon was big on handing out medals. My brother-in-law was killed by a defective hand grenade while he was climbing on board a chopper to go out and hunt VC and NVA as a combat marine in RVN. He got no PH. His death was ruled as an every day accident like getting hit by a truck or having a track back over you. He died asking forgiveness from his buddies because the grenade had hurt other people. What about all the deaths that have occurred and will occur because of AO? It is an instrumentality of war that has probably caused countless birth defects and deaths in S. Vietnam. Was that friendly cancer? Giving those guys at Ft. Hood PH medals because a USA Major went berserk is just pandering. They were no more combatants than the man in the moon. The medals mean less and less. Now if you are in a convoy and the trucks get shot at you get combat action badge. If you cut your hand on barbwire you get a PH. When you have an all volunteer military you need to hand out the medals and honors. The draft army’s best medal was the Discharge Paper or at least ETS out of Nam. A Silver star or Bronze star may look good on a politician’s resume but other than that does anyone care. I read in the obits every day about some vet who got three PH’s and a Silver Star. That goes on his headstone I guess. I would rather have FTA. There are hero’s. I am not one. Just a survivor. You know those killed in 9/11 received large cash compensation for their families. My brother-in-law’s mother got $10,000. The marines did pay for his funeral since they and military contractor killed him. The marines intimated at first that it was suicide, but many came forward to dispute that absurd claim. He was a gung ho marine if ever there was one. He was heroic every day he went out on patrol with the 80-100lbs on his back and him 5’9″ and about 140 lbs.