Monday, May 25, 2009
When I was young I read about the Trojan war; I studied Homer's writings for clues about such traits of personality or character possessed by the ancient heroes. I studied the Old Testament Book of Judges. Fascinated, I watched the film To Hell And Back; the story of Audie Murphy, Medal of Honor recipient and most decorated soldier of World War II.
I am not a hero but I have served in the company of heroes. More and more it seems nowadays we are living in an era of heroes.
In the latest conflict there have been heroes, as there have been in any and all wars of the past, mostly anonymous. Just recently I learned of a friend's stepfather's funeral at Arlington. A company commander in World War II, he fought with Patton; in a near ambush he was wounded by Germans three times on the same day, then returned to serve with his men on the front lines. For this heroism he received a single Purple Heart medal. He went on to serve his country in other capacities, working out of embassies in Africa and Southeast Asia. I didn't know it at the time, but while I was escorting his daughter to high school dances, this man was a prisoner of the Pathet Lao Communists. If I could have made it to Arlington that day, I would have worn my dress blues to honor this hero.
Three names immediately come to mind:
Captain Chesley N. Sullenberger, the nerves-of-steel pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 who safely his disabled aircraft in the East River and saved his entire compliment of passengers and crew from certain death.
Captain Richard Phillips of the MV Maersk-Alabama, who put himself in harms way, offering himself as hostage to the Somali pirates in exchange for the safety of his crew.
Colonel, US Army (Retired) Rick Rescorla. Born and raised in England, join the British military at age sixteen and fought against Communists in Cyprus and Rhodesia, then came to America, enlisted in the US Army and went to Vietnam with the 7th Cavalry - Custer's old outfit - and fought in the legendary Battle of Ia Drang. On Sept. 11th 2001, Rick Rescorla was vice-president in charge of security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. His office was on the forty-fourth floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center. The firm occupied twenty-two floors in the South Tower. After the plane hit his building, the Port Authority told him not to evacuate and to order people to stay at their desks.
Instead, Rescorla ensured that every one of his firm's employees was safely evacuated, then took some of his security men back INTO the burning building to make a final sweep, to make sure no one was left behind, injured, or lost. Rick did not make it out. Neither did two of his security officers who were at his side, but only three other Morgan Stanley employees died when their building was obliterated. In this final act of heroism, Rick Rescorla saved the lives of over 2600 employees of Dean Whitter.
Of course, there are the 4900+ men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the subsequent campaigns of the Global War on Terror.
Some 640,000+ gave all in the wars of the 20th Century: 25 Somalia (including 18 in the Battle of Mogadishu); 113 Gulf War I; 24 Operation JUST CAUSE Panama; 240+ Lebanon peacekeeping operations; 19 Operation URGENT FURY Grenada; 13 Operation POWER PACK Dominican Republic; 58,000+ Vietnam; 36,500+ Korea (latest casualty US Army CWO David Hilemon in 1994); 416,800+ World War II; 116,708+ World War I; 4100+ the Philippine War; 2900+ Spanish-American War;
Some 675,000+ Americans who died in the wars preceding: (including 620,000+ KIA or died of wounds and disease in the Civil War; 13,200+ Mexican War; 700+ Texas War of Independence; 17,000+ War of 1812; 24,000+ American Revolution).
The numbers listed above do not include Americans killed in politically-motivated terrorist acts, to include the 18 American servicemen & civilians killed during my time in the Philippines 1988-1989.
They are all heroes. We must honor them.