Iâ€™ve been privileged to have met some surviving Medal of Honor winners. The first was in 1988, he was my Brigade Command Sergeant Major. The man was already a legend among the privates of the Brigade, he wore a different combat patch every day. For the unfamiliar, a combat patch is worn on the right shoulder of the US Army Uniform, denoting â€œCombat Serviceâ€ with that unit. While Vietnam Vets were common in the Army of 1988, someone with that amount of experience was not. As I remember he wore The Big Red One, The First Cavalry, The Screaming Eagles, a Ranger Company Scroll , and others. Everyone who saw the man on a regular basis knew heâ€™d been there, and back. Then one morning, after a grueling week of training all day and preparing for an inspection all night, he stepped up in front of me. I was wearing my â€œClass A Uniformâ€ with all ONE of my, thus far, earned ribbons and my â€œTropic Lightningâ€ patch proudly displayed (on my left shoulder), when the Brigade CSM did his in ranks inspection. All I remember is standing at a rigid position of attention when suddenly a figure stepped in front of me and executed a crisp left face. All I saw, from that point on, was a tiny blue ribbon, almost hidden under the epaulets on his uniform shoulder, a tiny blue ribbon with 5 white stars across it. My mouth dried up and my stomach and sphincter clenched, thereby cutting off all blood flow to my brain (this is a common occurrence among privates). He asked to see my belt buckle then chewed my ass because I hadnâ€™t polished the back of the damned thing. I was too struck with stupidity to even mumble a response, not that one would have mattered. By the time he moved off down the rank I was a quivering wreck.
He wasnâ€™t the last Medal of Honor winner I would meet throughout my career. Another discovered me â€œborrowingâ€ diesel fuel from a group of Japanese Ground Defense Force Soldiers, and then stood guard with my Corporal while I finished using my Arkansas Credit Card and helped us refill and relight our Yukon stove to keep us from freezing to death in the mountains of Japan. Another introduced himself to me at an AUSA Convention in DC a few years later. He didnâ€™t mention the medal hanging around his neck or his status as a retired LTG, but then, he didnâ€™t really care about his status, he just wanted to shake my Soldiers’ hands and thank them for the job they were doing. Another grilled a foolish Second Lieutenant about who would salute who and when they would do it while I stood by and sniggered on the way to the mess hall. Another, Colonel Millett, ate lunch with me and pinned my Expert Infantryman’s Badge upon my chest.
I have been very fortunate; I spent the majority of my adult life in the company of the finest human beings ever to walk upon the face of the earth, whether they had one medal or a dozen. But even amongst these fine men, those who have earned a Medal of Honor stand out. I know what King Henry V and Sir William Shakespeare meant when he said
“…gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
89 out of 300 million, is it that hard to recognize greatness when you are in its company?