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Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day, 2016

It's Memorial Day again. First celebrated in the years following the Civil War, it is an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May intended to honor men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. As is my pleasure on this day, I've gathered a few stories of Medal of Honor recipients. This episode will be for Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean Conflict.

Some of the men that earned this award were operating at a different level of courage and dedication than most of us can imagine. MSgt Stanley Adams is one of those. At 1 in the morning he was holding an outpost some 200 yards ahead of his company when they were attacked by some 250 enemy troops. The platoon was pressed on 3 sides with enemy fire. MSgt Adams noticed some 150 hostile troops silhouetted against the sky, so he told his men to fix bayonets and he charged. He went down with a bullet in the leg, but got up again and continued his charge. Four times he was knocked down by grenade concussions that had bounced off him. He and the 13 men who had followed him engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, killing over 50 of them and forcing them to withdraw. His leadership, dedication, and indomitable fighting spirit saved the battalion from possible disaster.

Captain William Barber was a Marine officer in charge of Company F. His company had been tasked with defending a mountain pass that was the main supply line for the area. He had his troops dig in for defensive positions. In the night they were attacked, with heavy casualties, and surrounded by the enemy. Capt. Barber managed to repulse the enemy and told headquarters that he could hold out if they would drop him some supplies, but they ordered him to retreat after 2 reinforcing units were driven back trying to fight their way to his location. Capt. Barber knew that retreating would mean they would have to leave the many wounded who couldn't walk and would cut off 8,000 marines, so he chose to remain at risk of being removed from command. His battered troops continued through another 5 days and 6 nights, killing an estimated 1,000 enemy troops, until they were relieved. Of the original 220 men, only 82 were able to walk away, but his actions provided for the safe retreat of troops in the Chosin Reservoir sector.

We tend to think of the fighters as the brave ones, but some of the most heroic stories come from medics. Sgt David Bleak was one of those. Sgt Bleak volunteered to accompany a reconnaissance patrol seeking to engage and capture an enemy for interrogation. Here, I cannot improve on the text of the actual citation. You have to read this to believe it.
Forging up the rugged slope of the key terrain, the group was subjected to intense automatic weapons and small arms fire and suffered several casualties. After administering to the wounded, he continued to advance with the patrol. Nearing the military crest of the hill, while attempting to cross the fire-swept area to attend the wounded, he came under hostile fire from a small group of the enemy concealed in a trench. Entering the trench he closed with the enemy, killed 2 with bare hands and a third with his trench knife. Moving from the emplacement, he saw a concussion grenade fall in front of a companion and, quickly shifting his position, shielded the man from the impact of the blast. Later, while ministering to the wounded, he was struck by a hostile bullet but, despite the wound, he undertook to evacuate a wounded comrade. As he moved down the hill with his heavy burden, he was attacked by 2 enemy soldiers with fixed bayonets. Closing with the aggressors, he grabbed them and smacked their heads together, then carried his helpless comrade down the hill to safety.
Killed two with bare hands, deflected a grenade blast, shot but kept going, then grabbed two charging enemy soldiers with bayonets and banged their heads together. Like out of the movies, except it was real.

You may like the movie heroes. Captain America or Luke Skywalker or whomever you prefer. Those fictional heroes have nothing on these people. These men and women who served our country with such dedication and bravery deserve our gratitude and at least one day of recognition. That would be this day.

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