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Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day, 2017

Memorial Day in the United States is "a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America." It is intended to remind us of the nearly 2 million men and women who gave their lives since 1775 to defend our freedom. (Kind of makes you wonder about the appropriateness of our currently popular "get together and barbecue" party approach, doesn't it? Although I'm no longer sure if Americans have a sense of "the appropriate".)

My practice has been to highlight some of the winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor on this day. There have been nearly 3500 recipients of the Medal of Honor in our history. Only 72 are still alive. Most, however, died in their act of bravery.

Meet Freddie Stowers. Freddie was one of the rare black soldiers to fight in World War I. In September, 1918, Freddie's company was ordered to assault Côte 188, a tall, heavily defended hill in the Ardennes. The Germans faked surrender and then eliminated half of Stowers's company in one barrage, leaving Freddie in charge. Freddie regrouped his remaining forces and led the charge. He was struck by enemy machine gun fire but kept going. Shot a second time, he urged his men to keep going. His courage inspired his men to successfully drive the Germans from the hill. Freddie succumbed to his injuries and it wasn't until 1990 that the Army reviewed his recommendation and looked into the events. He was awarded the Medal of Honor 73 years after he was killed.

Who would be a less likely candidate for the Medal of Honor than Ben Salomon? Ben was an Army dentist in World War II. He volunteered to serve as head field surgeon when the original one was injured in the invasion of Saipan. (Not much dental work going on at the time.) In July of 1944 the fighting was fierce and casualties high. Salomon's field hospital was set up within 50 yards of the forward foxhole line. The Japanese overran the line and encroached on the tent. Salomon killed an enemy soldier attacking one of his wounded and ordered evacuation. He killed two more at the tent entrance and four who crawled under the sides. Salomon's fate wasn't clear until an Army unit returned to the scene of the battle days later. The Army dentist's body was slumped over a machine gun and 98 deceased Japanese troops lay in front of him. He had received 76 bullet wounds and just as many bayonet wounds. It was determined that he had sustained up to 24 wounds while he was still alive. Our brave Jewish dentist wasn't awarded his Medal of Honor until 59 years later.

Being partial to the Air Force, I have to give you an Air Force guy. Captain Steven L. Bennett flew with the 20th Recon Squadron in Vietnam. These weren't the hot fighter pilot types. These guys flew the most dangerous missions. They flew low and slow aircraft like the O-1, O-2, and O-10 to go into the toughest areas as Forward Air Controllers (FACs). They would find the enemy and fly over them while directing artillery or airstrikes. On one such mission, Capt. Bennett found a large concentration of enemy troops massing for an attack on a friendly unit. He requested air support but none was available. He requested artillery support with the same outcome. So he chose to strafe the enemy himself. He made four passes, forcing the enemy to retreat. On the 5th pass, his aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile. He realized they wouldn't make it back, so he told his observer to bail out. His observer couldn't. His parachute had been shredded by the impact. Now, Capt. Bennett's parachute was fine, but if he bailed out his observer would die, so instead he opted to ditch the plane in the Gulf of Tonkin. Keep in mind that this kind of aircraft had never survived a ditching. The impact damaged the front cockpit and Capt. Bennett was trapped. His observer escaped and was rescued. "Capt. Bennett's unparalleled concern for his companion, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force."

We are privileged to live in a country like ours and blessed with a history of people who thought freedom and their fellow countrymen were worth protecting, even dying for. Let us be grateful on this day of memory.


Marshall Art said...

At my blog I have a link to a site that lists MOH winners, with descriptions of their actions that merited the award. It no longer is in service, and it's last post is from 2014 that directs readers to a site meant to gather all the host's blogs into one. That one is current, but I don't see anything that shows the original list of medal winners. It does, however, have a couple of relatively current postings about a couple of them. I tried to post a comment, and was unable to enter one. I haven't tried to email the dude.

In any case, the list is huge and I like to check it out from time to time, as the stories are humbling and inspiring.

Stan said...

My sources for most of my entries on the subject are The Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the official Army history site. You might enjoy them, too.

David said...

I read the heroic stories you pay each year, and I wonder what tomorrow's military will look like. We read these stories of selfless courage, then look at the people coming up now, and wonder if they would display this same courage, or if their selfish civilian life will prevent them from displaying some of the best in humanity.

Stan said...

I am convinced that the numbers of people who would have this kind of drive, patriotism, and courage are down, but I'm equally convinced that they're not as far down as the public view suggests.