Today’s generation of kids tends to get dreadfully confused, and ends up thinking that blow-dried, plastic, vapid actors are heroes because they take on those roles in movies. It would be great if these guys could go around wearing signs warning “I’m not a hero, but I play one on TV (or in the movies).” This week, however, we’ve had the opportunity to see, up close, what real heroism is.
The first example, of course, was posthumous Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael P. Murphy, who sacrificed himself to save others, all the while participating in a fierce fire fight, despite his wounds:
According to a Navy citation, Murphy and three fellow SEALs were searching for a terrorist in the Afghan mountains on June 28, 2005, when their mission was compromised after they were spotted by locals, who presumably reported their presence and location to the Taliban.
A fierce firefight ensued, with more than 50 anti-coalition militia firing on the outnumbered SEALs.
Despite the intensity of the firefight, Murphy _ already wounded _ is credited with risking his own life to save the lives of his comrades by moving into the open for a better position to transmit a call for help.
While continuing to be fired upon, Murphy provided his unit’s location and the size of the enemy force. At one point he was shot in the back, causing him to drop the transmitter. Murphy picked it back up, completed the call and continued firing at the enemy who was closing in.
Murphy then returned to his cover position with his men and continued the battle.
By the end of the two-hour gunfight, Murphy and two of his comrades were dead. An estimated 35 Taliban were also killed. The fourth member of their team managed to escape and was protected by local villagers for several days before he was rescued.
What’s amazing about Murphy’s extraordinary courage is that it’s not unique. There are other men and women out there who have shown themselves willing to put themselves on the line for their comrades. In Mountain View, California, just the other day, one young man received a swift promotion because of his bravery in a combat situation:
The mortar fire was flying all around him, and several U.S. Marines were down. As adrenaline fueled his soul, Shawn Nirdlinger threw his body on top of a wounded fallen soldier to shield him from the barrage of mortar.
Six rounds later, the Iraq battle was over. One Marine was dead and 21 others were badly injured. But Nirdlinger, a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman third class, was well enough to treat 13 of them and save many of their lives. The medic reached into one Marine’s pocket, pulled out his identification card and pushed it into a sunken hole in the man’s chest – to keep the air inside him. The Marine survived.
In a rare reward reserved for the most courageous sailors during combat, Nirdlinger was bumped up in rank Sunday at a tearful ceremony attended by about 100 sailors, Marines, friends and relatives gathered at the Navy Operational Support Center in San Jose.
Nirdlinger, 32, was promoted to hospital corpsman second class as part of the Combat Meritorious Advancement Program. Launched less than two years ago, the program allows commanders to promote sailors “who display uncommon valor and extraordinary leadership while engaged in, or in direct support of, combat operations.” Only about 100 sailors have been promoted under the program, which has rigid standards.
“I was just doing my job,” said a starkly humble Nirdlinger, a Mountain View resident. “You don’t think about anything. You just do what you are trained to do when something like that happens.”
With his wife, Tamar, by his side, his right hand bandaged from a separate accident, Nirdlinger stood in camouflage – with an enormous smile – stunned by the standing ovation and all of the attention.
“Anyone worth their salt would have done the same thing,” he said.
Ironically, although Nirdlinger emerged unscathed from that firefight, he too ended up receiving injuries in Iraq:
He was full of joy Sunday, but the last year has been full of turmoil. About a month after the April 13, 2006, attack on the Marines at Martini, Iraq, Nirdlinger nearly died while on reconnaissance patrol. He and five others were riding in a Humvee when an improvised explosive device went off.
Everyone riding in the back of the vehicle was killed – except Nirdlinger.
But the ambush tore off part of his scalp, broke his jaw and right arm, severed an artery and knocked out teeth.
He remembers riding in the back of the Humvee and then waking up in the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto two months later.
He had been in a coma.
Nirdlinger earned the Purple Heart after that attack.
I heard today about one more man who earned an award for extraordinary bravery, and one who has a very interesting back story. The young man is Marco Martinez, the author of Hard Corps: From Gangster to Marine Hero . The title tells it all.
Martinez started out life as a gang member in New Mexico. Somehow, though, he realized that there was more to life than the narrow, crime-ridden world around him. What was fascinating was his epiphany: he saw a Marine walk through his high school. He did not talk to the Marine, he did not hear the Marine talk to anybody. He just saw him walk by and thought, “I want to be like him.” Code Pink is collapsing all over the place with heart attacks just thinking about that. They can close Marine Recruiting stations ’til they’re blue in the face, but as long as Marines are out there looking strong and polished, they will attract those who are trapped in apparent dead ends, but who still seek to better themselves. As a Marine, Martinez was part of the invasion of Iraq, where he eventually earned a Navy Cross for bravery in battle.
Three faces of bravery. You’ll find a lot more if you sidestep the American media and start looking at the military websites that list the honors awarded to American troops and the stories behind those honors.
Incidentally, the link I included to Martinez’s book will take you to an Amazon web page. As you know, if Publisher’s Weekly has done a blurb review for a book, Amazon will include it on the web page. The following is the complete text of the PW review. All I did was highlight the language which just hints at the teeny little bit of bias that maybe, just maybe, some reviewer in New York feels for those who do wacko things like fight to defend their country:
In this macho, profanity-laced memoir by a 2003 Iraqi invasion veteran, Martinez describes himself as a Hispanic juvenile delinquent from Albuquerque, N.Mex., who turned his life around by joining the marines in 2001. His exploits (including winning the Navy Cross) will entertain military buffs with precise details of combat and of a sadistic boot camp that recalls the antiwar movie (but Marine and Martinez favorite) Full Metal Jacket. Bonded and eager for battle, his unit yearned in vain to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11 and joyfully participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Though experts now agree our forces overwhelmed Saddam Hussein’s disorganized army, Martinez and his men assumed they faced a vicious enemy, referred to by Martinez as terrorists, and killed scores while destroying buildings with their overwhelming firepower. His company suffered two wounded. Martinez never doubts that he fought to defend America’s freedom and freely admits his contempt for those who don’t appreciate this. The book is peppered with denunciation of biased news coverage, liberals, hippies, John Kerry and Anthony Swofford (ex-marine author of Jarhead), but readers who enjoy learning about the mechanics of an urban gang and of a marine platoon in combat are unlikely to object.