Day by Day

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Here's a question -

Would you know a Medal of Honor Recipient if you met one?

There's a book out that takes a look at the living MoH recipients. I may just have to pick it up.

The contemporary photographs are in rich black and white, easing comparisons to the older images. The style also brings out the sense of quiet courage the book intends to convey. There is no bravado here. None of these men were medal hunters. The expressions are pensive, gentle, introspective. They are the faces of our brothers, our fathers or grandfathers. There is no halo around them, nothing to show that there was a time in their lives when they were called on to do great deeds. The black-and-white pictures are also symbolic of the choices these men faced, in the brief moments they had to make them. Sometimes circumstances impose conditions of surpassing danger when life loses its nuances and complexity, when action is more important than deliberation. These are the moments when character comes to the fore. Such times are rarely predictable; one cannot plan for them, nor summon inspiration from dry wells when they arrive. Having the positive qualities of character ready when they are needed necessitates always having them. Most of us will never have to face situations as extreme as those described in this book, but we can draw inspiration from the men who lived through them, and received the recognition of a grateful nation.

I've talked about the trouble that Joe Foss had getting through an airport with his Medal of Honor. Maybe on Memorial Day it might be a good idea to peruse through the list of Medal of Honor recipients, and just look at what these people did. The Army keeps a website that has all the recipients by the wars they served in. Click on a link at random, and you're likely to find stories that are normally spoken of in hushed tones.


Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company C, 3d Machine Gun Battalion, 1st Division. Place and date: Near Soissons, France, 18 July 1918. Entered service at: Bruceville, Tex. Born: 9 April 1897, Moorville, Tex. G.O. No.: 14, W.D., 1923. Citation: Reporting for duty from hospital where he had been for several weeks under treatment for numerous and serious wounds and although suffering intense pain from a shattered arm, he crawled alone into an enemy trench for the purpose of capturing or killing enemy soldiers known to be concealed therein. He killed 4 of the men and took the remaining 4 men prisoners; while conducting them to the rear one of the enemy was killed by a high explosive enemy shell which also completely shattered 1 of Pfc. Edwards' legs, causing him to be immediately evacuated to the hospital. The bravery of Pfc. Edwards, now a tradition in his battalion because of his previous gallant acts, again caused the morale of his comrades to be raised to high pitch.

If this had happened in a movie, people would be shaking their heads and saying "Yeah, right!" But it did happen. It wasn't a movie, it was the actions of one man. And there are thousands of names on that roll.


Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company G, 118th Infantry, 30th Division. Place and date. Near Montbrehain, France, 8 October 1918. Entered service at: Fort Mill, S.C. Birth: Fort Mill, S.C., G.O. No.: 50, W.D., 1919. Citation: Having overcome 2 machinegun nests under his skillful leadership, Sgt. Hall's platoon was stopped 800 yards from its final objective by machinegun fire of particular intensity. Ordering his men to take cover in a sunken road, he advanced alone on the enemy machinegun post and killed 5 members of the crew with his bayonet and thereby made possible the further advance of the line. While attacking another machinegun nest later in the day this gallant soldier was mortally wounded.

This man crawled 800 yards and killed five men with a bayonet? Try crawling back and forth over the length of a football field eight times. Try to imagine the sounds of bullets cracking and ripping the air overhead while you do that.

These are some of the best men that America had to offer. If you see an asterisk next to their name, it means that the Medal of Honor was awared posthumously. Just take a gander through some of these names.

They're an inspiration.

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