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Dishonoring the Medal of Honor

November 22, 2010 | 12:01 pm

My fellow columnist Thomas Friedman says the world is flat. Fair enough. But I’ve been saying for a long time that the Internet is flat.

By "flat," I mean that it makes no real distinction between good information and bad, between something from the Encyclopedia Britannica and something excreted into cyberspace by a guy with far more bandwidth than brain. 

What this means is that the pinheads and loudmouths whose wacky or outright repulsive pronouncements were once confined to those within earshot of a barstool or soapbox now get a worldwide platform where they can appear as important as someone who actually knows what he or she is talking about.

Evidence the man in question, the "director of issues analysis" for something grandiosely named the American Family Assn. (I sometimes speculate that the grandeur of the name is in inverse proportion to the size and gravitas of the organization in question. Take the self-styled Dove World Outreach Center, a Florida church with a congregation no more numerous than a couple of fifth-grade classes, whose pastor held hostage the attention of official Washington and much of the media with his off-again, on-again threat to burn Korans on Sept. 11.)

Now we have the insulting ignorance -– or ignorant insult -– of this other supposed man of God who is denouncing the awarding of the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, to Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta for saving his fellow soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan, as having "feminized" the award. "When," opined this "issues analyst," Bryan Fischer, "are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?"

My question is, when are we going to stop letting people who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about hijack the public discourse?

For starters, Fischer could do a little research, like reading the fine book about some other recipients. "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty’"is by Peter Collier, with photographs by Nick Del Calzo and a foreword by President George H.W. Bush.

You can’t read these accounts without getting a lump in the throat and tears in the eyes. This book was devoted to living medal recipients, but many Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously, and many of them to servicemen who sacrificed themselves not to kill the enemy but to save their fellow soldiers.

There’s the story of a World War II medic who was awarded the medal for single-handedly saving dozens of wounded soldiers from an Okinawa hilltop under Japanese fire. That man was a Seventh-day Adventist named Desmond T. Doss. His faith barred him from bearing arms but not from serving as a medic.

Here is part of the account in the book:

"On Okinawa, in the late spring of 1945, his battalion was assaulting a jagged escarpment rising up four hundred feet whose summit was commanded by well entrenched Japanese forces. It was a battle that … continued on for nearly three weeks as the Japanese fought back from caves and tunnels. At one point [Doss] treated four men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, Only a few yards from the Japanese guns, he dressed each of their wounds and made four trips to drag them to safety."

On a Saturday -- Doss’ Sabbath -- he was the only medic available during an intense assault. He told himself that Christ had healed seven days a week, and joined the other men. The massive Japanese assault took down dozens of soldiers. Doss, 'under constant fire,' tended the wounded, got them to the edge of the escarpment, and lowered them down in a rope sling, praying each time that God would 'let me get just one more man.' When night fell, he had rescued 75 men.

Several days later, when he himself was wounded by a grenade and was being carried to an aid station, he insisted that a badly wounded soldier take his stretcher."

Account after account of the valor exhibited by Medal of Honor recipients attests not only to men who attacked the enemy but to men who threw themselves on grenades to protect their comrades, who led rescues, who died helping to save the wounded.

During the Vietnam War, another future Medal of Honor awardee, Rear Adm. James B. Stockdale, who was the senior POW in the "Hanoi Hilton," didn’t kill his captors. Rather, he defied them ferociously, and took the punishment meted out by the North Vietnamese in order to spare his comrades. But maybe that's too ''feminine'' for Fischer.

Fischer would do well to shut his yap and open his eyes, and to brush up on his history and his Bible, starting with John 15:13: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

-- Patt Morrison

[UPDATE: A previous version of this blog post displayed a photo of Sgt. Salvatore Giunta. It has been removed.]




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