Valor… The Real Superheroes


by Ed Mattson


To what do we owe those who serve in the military? I think that question has been much forgotten in the interesting and sometimes tainted history of America’s past. I call it “our tainted past”, not because of the military or the general population, but because in every group there are always those who just don’t get with the program.

Our history is dotted with crooked politicians who have committed every wrong from embezzlement, murder, arson, and perjury to sexual scandals that rocked the nation; and who can dismiss the criminal element of the Old West and Roaring Twenties. Such a script could only be written with the freedoms guaranteed in our constitution by the U.S military.

In the political arena, one often hears that our constitutional rights are guaranteed by the US Supreme Court… a well-worn phrase that has no meaning without a military that swore and oath to protect the nation against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. In fact there would be no Supreme court, Congress, or President, if our military wasn’t as great as it is. Yet even the military with its history of tradition, honor, duty, pride, and valor, also has had its run-ins with what is legal, decent, and proper, as witnessed by more than 200 years of courts martial, lengthy prison sentences and firing squads.

So, to answer the question as to what is owed to the military, it is everything that is America.

Those who choose to serve in uniform, whether as a volunteer or a conscript, are a microcosm of all America. They are just ordinary human beings that have been called to duty to serve in defense of the nation, even though many times those “defense of the country” situations may later be called into question by those who, because history claims to have perfect 20-20 vision, in fact, may or may not be correct. In short they are just like you and me.

The medals of Audie Murphy

If that is true, then how does one explain how history has delivered so many heroes from among the ranks of “the ordinary”? Just ask anyone in uniform who has been singled out for his or her bravery and what drove them to gallantry, and they will tell you they were just doing what needed to be done at the time. They don’t see valor as anything out of the ordinary, which is why it is impossible to figure out who will rise to the occasion when heroic deeds are needed. I mean, who would have thought a US Marine standing 5′ 5-1/2″ tall and weighing a mere 112 pounds (in his June 30, 1942 military physical), would become the most decorated soldier in World War II.

Audie Murphy, born, Audie Leon Murphy (June 20, 1924 – May 28, 1971), was just one of those ordinary Americans who was award every citation for valor and bravery that the military could award PLUS five of the highest awards from the countries of Belgium and France. To show how one’s perception can change, Audie Murphy rose from Private to the rank of First Lieutenant through battlefield promotions, and his discharge physical showed his physical stature had been elevated to 5′-8 ½” , 145 lbs. Perception? Maybe. Or perhaps it was the great C-Rations every soldier had to endure during the war!

So, what makes a hero a HERO? MY definition is that everyone who faces enemy fire is a hero, but being recognized as a hero by our country through medals and citations, is that those who recognized those feats of valor, lived to tell the story. So often in battle, as any veteran will attest, there are many acts of bravery, and some stories take years to surface. Earlier this year I wrote an article describing the feats of PFC Charlie Johnson, who was awarded the Silver Star for valor for his actions in the forgotten Korean War, 57-years after the fact. Some say it was because PFC Johnson was black, but a closer analysis is that it just took that long for the story to get to the top of somebody’s list to make the call.

Today I was going to write about bravery and valor as America’s seeming decline politically and morally, needs a moral injection of what is important. Today’s youth as well as most of those who have risen from the Me Generations of the 70’s and 80’s, have pegged their HEROES on false idols (the title of superstar as has become the accepted vernacular bestowed upon anyone who ever cut a record, had a cameo part in a movie or TV sit-com, or even someone who managed to hit a home run). Everyone in Hollywood, anybody playing in major league spots, or any gang member who can’t “carry a tune across the street” but manages to get a record deal, have become America’s Gods in everyone’s eyes.

So, on second thought, half way through my notes at this point, this looks to be another article I will write which needs to be covered by more than a single article, because the more I write the more I see it is impossible to talk about HEROES until we define heroism. It is obvious that because hero and “superstar” are so closely related, and since heroes are just ordinary people who were prepared to act in time of need excelling beyond expectation, I don’t want folks to miss the opportunity to reassess their views about who and who doesn’t qualify being placed on a pedestal.

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Those who have been in the military, as well as most of our first responders get the picture without help from me, but for the other 90% we’ll use the military as our teaching tool for becoming a hero or superstar. I invite the PRESS to pay attention as well.

To recognize superstardom that is indisputable and honored by the Medal of Honor, and other awards for gallantry, valor, and heroism, we should all recognize there are varying degrees of recognition that are required. Over the years, the military seems to have gotten that down pat.

The greatest recognition is that of the Medal of Honor, which often has required such a degree of selflessness, that the individual for who the award was made, gave all, meaning the honor was bestowed posthumously. More than fifty percent have perished in doing what needed to be done, which is why so few actually qualify for this honor. It is even more astonishing to realize, like Audie Murphy, that these giants don’t have to be physical giants and come from the same mold as the rest of us.

Second in precedence to the Medal of Honor, each branch of the armed services has their award for gallantry well beyond the call of duty and marked by a service cross. The Army has its Distinguished Service Cross; the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) has its Navy Cross; and the Air Force has the Air Force Cross. These recognitions are awarded individuals who distinguish themselves by extraordinary heroism rising to a level that is viewed to be just below that required for the Medal of Honor. Yes, it is a judgment call, but generally discernible from the reading of the citation.

The Distinguished Service Cross is given for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force. For service members from any branch serving in any capacity with the Army. The Distinguished Service Cross was established in 1918 to honor heroism of the highest degree that did not quite merit the Medal of Honor.

The Navy Cross was authorized February 4, 1919, and was the Navy’s 3rd highest award for combat heroism and other distinguished services. On August 7, 1942 Congress made the Navy Cross a combat only decoration with precedence over the Distinguished Service Medal, making it the Navy’s 2nd highest award ranking below only the Medal of Honor.

Air Force Cross was established in 1960 to honor heroism of the highest degree that did not merit the Medal of Honor. Previously airmen of the Army Air Corps were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for such actions.

The following award recognitions are shared universally by all branches of the service:

The Silver Star which is awarded for distinguished gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States or while serving with friendly forces against an opposing enemy force. It is the nation’s third highest award designated solely for heroism in combat. In 1918 it was established as the Citation Star, but in 1932 it was re-designated as the Silver Star and allowed to be used to recognize heroism retroactively to servicemen as far back as the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The Distinguished Flying Cross  was established in 1926 for heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight. It too, was allowed to award actions retroactively back to 1918 (The First World War). The first recipient of the DFC was Charles A. Lindberg, then a captain in the Army Reserve, on 11 June, 1927. The award recognized his 1927 transatlantic crossing in the Spirit of St. Louis. The earliest aviation event for which the new award was presented however, was Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1903. Because the law permitted only awards for aerial events after 1917, Congress passed special legislation by the President and Act of Congress, to Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright (both posthumously), in Washington D.C., Feb. 23, 1929. Other distinguished aviators to receive the award were Commander Richard Byrd and Amelia Earhart. The Distinguished Flying Cross can be awarded for heroism in aerial combat or significant aerial achievement.

The Bronze Star is awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement of service, not involving aerial flight in connection with operations against an opposing armed force. It was authorized on February 4, 1944 and may be awarded either for combat heroism or for meritorious service.

The Purple Heart is the oldest of our military awards. It is awarded for wounds or death as result of an act of any opposing armed force, as a result of an international terrorist attack or as a result of military operations while serving as part of a peacekeeping force. The predecessor of the Purple heart dates back to George Washington’s “Badge of Military Merit” (1782). After a long period of absence Washington’s award was resurrected in 1932 as the Purple Heart.

The Air Medal was established in 1942, and is awarded for meritorious achievement in aerial operations, for heroic acts in aerial operations against an armed enemy, or for merit in operational activities. In Vietnam it was awarded and denoted participation by ground troops in a requisite number of “Combat Air Assaults”.

Receiving recognition is not what motivates someone to be a hero, and in fact, is probably the furthest thing in the mind during the event. That’s what makes it so remarkable. On Monday we’ll discuss heroes that are not just ordinary citizens who became heroes, but SUPERHEROES who have receive the Medal of Honor…not once but TWICE!

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