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This March 25, National Medal of Honor Day, marks the 151st anniversary of the first award of the Medal of Honor to Civil War veteran Jacob Parrot.
On that day, recipients of the medal will gather at Arlington Cemetery to honor civilian heroes whose valor matches, even exceeds, their own. The ceremony at Arlington is part of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Character Development Program, which seeks to infuse our youth with the importance of courage, sacrifice, patriotism and defines just what a hero should be. (WND published a column I wrote on this program last March.)
The Arlington ceremony this year will be special because we may be joined by two new recipients from the Afghanistan War as well as three recipients (living of 24 recently approved) from Vietnam decorated one week earlier by the president. It is also special because it may mark the last time such ceremonies happen. The Medal of Honor Society will continue to honor heroic civilians but, God willing, there will never be another award of the Medal of Honor for a new war – a certain sign we are war free. Peace is the ultimate victory of all warriors.
The March 18 awards (hopefully the White House will recognize the proximity of National MOH Day and change this date) by the president should end years of records searches by thousands of people in a quest to right possible prejudices or oversights of the degree of heroism of some ethnic groups. I have watched these searches over the years and the delayed upgrades and recognitions, and I don’t know how racial bias could be proved, although politics certainly plays a role as it does in everything these days. Buffalo Bill Cody comes to mind and Mary Walker, who had their medals revoked for technicalities but later reinstated. We can be fairly certain no bias was involved in the delayed award to Theodore Roosevelt. And there were others of all races overlooked and delayed for years because of records snafus. Politics and race aside, one thing we can be sure of – every one of these men is deserving. In most cases, they had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, or equivalent, second only to the Medal of Honor. And every one that I have known was very proud of that medal. In fact, I will say that my Distinguished Service Cross, or DSC, was more significant than my MOH.
These reviews and upgrades have been ongoing from day one, but who could explain why not a single Medal of Honor was awarded to a black during World War II although blacks received the medal in every other conflict? Hard to explain, but once the question was posed, a careful review of blacks awarded Distinguished Service Crosses found seven blacks deemed worthy of the Medal of Honor. The only living black recipient was Vernon Baker, a friend and valued member of the Medal of Honor Society until his death. The door was opened, and subsequent searches found deserving Asian-Americans, including the late-Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.
Although this latest review began with a focus on Jews and Hispanics, they looked at other DSC recipients and found a deserving black individual and others who were deserving but not Hispanic or Jewish. Unfortunately, as is often the case, some in the media demean their awards of the Distinguished Service Cross rather than the MOH as race based. We see these headlines all over the country, and they will continue. Such tripe is an insult to all involved: the chain of command, which thought enough of these men to recommend them for the DSC, their buddies who supported the recommendations and the men themselves. I am not a big gambler, but I would bet my life that the media pundits who scream race in these awards have never been awarded any medal for valor, let alone the DSC.
Awards are human endeavors: uneven, unequal and loaded with happenstance. It may astound that no blacks were awarded the MOH in World War II, but all ethnic groups earned the MOH in all of our other wars except, unbelievably, during the Gulf Wars’ incredible military operations. That omission caused considerable concern and may have invoked more careful looks in subsequent conflicts. Blacks and Hispanics stand above all other ethnic groups except the Irish (almost two-thirds of all MOHs went to the Irish) in numbers of awards. Blacks rank second (one black individual received two MOHs), and Hispanics are a very close third. It may be noteworthy that the Irish, who were considered sub-human early on, were awarded more MOHs than all other foreign-born recipients combined. In my 34 years of service, I never saw race play any role in any award.
But I will say this: We could go back over the awards again and find many more of all race/ethnic groups who deserve the MOH. And those of us who wear the medal wear it for them and all our brother and sisters who served together without bias or prejudice, who focused only on performance. The moral of this story is not that we are a biased people any more than we are a criminal people, although we have bigots and criminals among us. The moral is that we never give up trying to do what is right and, as often as not, we get it right.
Those of us who wear the medal are proud to be joined by these great American heroes. They will soon learn that the medal will be far more difficult to wear than it was to earn, and what they do with it will be more important than what they did to get it. Hopefully, many of their fellow citizens will gather at the bottom of the steps to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington to meet the five new recipients on National Medal of Honor Day, March 25, 2014. It may be the last time ever that this many new recipients are in one place at one time.