A few thoughts about Obama’s approach to those newly-minted Medal of Honor recipients

medal_of_honor_awardBarack Obama yesterday handed out twenty-four Medals of Honor to veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam who were allegedly denied these medals because of discrimination.  The process was an arduous one:

It took decades, congressional legislation and a review of thousands of war records, but two dozen veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam received the Medal of Honor on Tuesday from President Obama at a somber and tearful White House ceremony.

The premise behind these long-delayed honors was that the Pentagon systematically denied Jews and Hispanics Medals of Honor during the three wars mentioned above.  If that’s the case, it’s a wonderful thing to see that wrong redressed.

One does wonder, though, how the military determined that these specific veterans ought to have gotten Medals of Honor back in the day.  Were there notations in their files that said, “Commanding officer’s Medal of Honor suggestion denied because the candidate is named Weinberg or Santiago”? Or was there a statistical analysis that said that X percent of Hispanics and Jews ought to have received Medals of Honors, so we’ll cull the records for troops in each demographic and conduct a de novo review? Nobody knows and nobody will know:

The Pentagon has not released the findings of its review or specified which recipients were previously denied the Medal of Honor because of discrimination. But in his remarks, the president spoke of setting wrongs right.

For whatever reason, to the extent these men bravely served their country, I certainly don’t begrudge them this honor — and that’s true even if their bravery wouldn’t have earned that award in real time, even discounting discrimination. Complaining about such rewards to septuagenarians, octogenarians, and nonagenarians is petty and makes no sense.  I congratulate these men for the honor accorded them.

But I still have a bone to pick…. And of course, the bone is with the President. I don’t know whether this a legitimate nitpick, or if it’s just that every utterance he makes irritates me, but here goes:

After the usual shtick about how he’s righting America’s past wrongs, Obama added this: “”This is the length to which America will go to make sure everyone who serves under our proud flag receives the thanks that they deserve.”

Do you think of the Medal of Honor as a “thank you” note? I don’t. I think of it as an honor and an award acknowledging the highest caliber of behavior in the service of our nation and for the benefit of the individual honoree’s companions in arms.  It is greater than a “thank you.”

Perhaps I come at this in a peculiar way. I have sitting on my desk a box full of medals that my father received after WWII. They don’t honor him particularly. They simply acknowledge his service. They are, in other words, a “thank you” for being there.

They’re still pretty cool to tell the truth.  Here’s the box, shipped to Tel Aviv from Gloucester at some point after the war:

Box of medals
In the box is the official “thank you” note (so to speak), which has on its reverse side a cheat sheet for explaining the medals and ribbons contained within it:

Dad's medals page 2

Dad's medals page 1
The box also contains the following ribbons and medals.  The War Medal, attesting to his service between 1939 and 1945:

Medals (3)

Medals (2)
The Africa Star, attesting to his service in North Africa from 1942 through 1943, and the Battle of Britain star, despite the fact that my Dad first stepped foot in England in 1954.

Medals (1)
The above ribbons and medals constitute “thank you” awards. They acknowledge that, just like every man of military age and good physical fitness during that time, Daddy did his bit, and the British nation was appropriately grateful. Daddy fought with courage, and he saw some truly horrific things during his time there, but he would freely admit that he didn’t do anything above and beyond the call of duty. Thank yous were appropriate; high commendations were not. To me, there’s a difference between the two. To Barack Obama, the ultimate non-military man, there is not.

Just as matter of historical interest (interesting to me, at least), Dad also stored in the box his regimental pin (I think) from the Israeli War of Independence and his Royal Air Force Association lapel clip:

Medals (5)
Medals (4)

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  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Medals are a kind of social acceptance and recognition. In many cases, males will fight harder for social recognition than monetary reward.
    Medals also encourage the recognition of bravery and risk taking obedience in the unit. As well as ease the psychological costs of killing or the pain of losing comrades in war.
    When the Vietnam Left had soldiers sell their medals or throw them away, it was their way to intensify the psychological damage of returning vets, to break them and make them unable to become productive citizens. In that fashion, the Left will always control the weak.
    These new medals are used in a similar fashion for propaganda.

  • Michael Adams

    It is incorrect to refer to these brave men as “Medal of Honor Winners”  They are Medal of Honor Recipients. One does not “win” the medal.  It is awarded.

    • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

      You’re absolutely right. I’ll correct. 

  • 11B40

    As in all  human systems, the awarding of military medals has nothing to do with perfection.  During my rather short infantry daze, I had a reasonably up close view of the full spectrum of the medals system’s uses and abuses from immediate Purple Hearts for sons of Massachusetts (to get the state’s $125 bonus) to the attempted award of a Silver Star to a First Lieutenant who abandoned his platoon under fire.  After a while, all you can do is shrug your shoulders and hope that all went as it was supposed to.  (And, obviously, there were similar currents in the area of promotions which actually put dollars in pockets but I guess that that wouldn’t be enough of a headline grabber.)
    So, at this point in time, when a President, who has and has tried to corrupt and politicize every part of our government and society he could, manages to find enough talented lackeys in the DoD (from which general and flag officers are no longer allowed to resign) to give him another chance to remind the former America of its non-progressive guilt, I kind of just shrug my shoulders and hope that all went as it was supposed to.
    To those who earned their awards and waited patiently or died prior to receiving them, my congratulations and respects.
    And if I may address Michael Adams’ (above) comment, I like to think of them as “earned” and , hopefully, awarded.

  • Jose

    After a 20 year military career my attitude towards decorations is mostly skeptical.  I’ve seen some awarded with good reason, but most were meaningless.  For example,  I always thought that if you wore the uniform, the Basic Training ribbon was redundant.  Also questionable were the Longevity ribbon, the Good Conduct ribbon… you get the idea.
    Midway through my career, the top leadership kept changing the uniform guidelines, and for a year or two one could wear one’s dress blues, with all, or with only some, of your authorized decorations.  During that time I did a 6 week school called the NCO Academy, where we were trained to be “professional” NCOs.  Dress uniforms were worn daily, and inspections were part of the curriculum.  I wore less than half of my  ribbons,  but soon noticed that I was the only one in a class of 50 who did not wear every single one.  So obviously most treasure every single one.

  • Jose

    The Turks have a different take on the whole decoration thing.  In 1991 I spent some time in the USAF  photo lab on an installation in Turkey.  The lab had just installed color photo printing capability, which was uncommon at the time.  As a curtesy to our hosts, the Turkish commander and his deputy were invited over to have their official portraits done in color.
    The Turkish Colonel, or maybe General, had one ribbon.  It was kind of dingy, stained, and the corners were rounded off from wear.   Apparently it was THE ribbon,  had been worn since it was awarded,  and replacements were not available.  The deputy had 2 ribbons.

  • http://bkivey.wordpress.com/ bkivey

    My take is that this was another obviously manufactured distraction from this Administration’s failings. The recipients may well deserve the Medal, but I have to look at the messenger, too.

    • SADIE

      The “messenger” deserves two medals – AWOL and MIA (Missing Inaction).


    Israeli medal: Military Defense of Israel.  Did you dad fight in the War of Independence?

    • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

      Sadie, for a few short moments (minutes, really), before a more senior officer came along, my father was the first Jewish commander of Jaffa since Roman times. 

      After they took Jaffa, I’m sorry to say that the Israeli forces looted the area.  They did not rape the women or kill the men and children.  Instead, they took off with carpets.  Except for my Dad.  He looted grammar books. 

      My Mom also served in the army during the War of Independence, as a cartographer.

  • Caped Crusader

    From all your comments you had brave, decent, courageous, honest, and unforgettable parents who live in your memory and have left you with the greatest treasure and legacy that can be imparted from parent to child.; a map to pattern a life after. They endowed you with riches that cannot be bought!

    • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

      Caped Crusader:  I’m certainly proud to have been their daughter.  If I could have them do one thing differently, it would be to raise me to be less afraid of the world’s challenges and changes.  Still, given their own life stories, I can’t blame them for seeing the world as a very dangerous, unforgiving place.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    G-d Bless your Mom!!
    And RIP, Dad!  A great (and real) man.
    No one is perfect, and parents have SO many opportunities to screw things up……I know that you count yourself blessed, even with their failings…..it comes through in your writings, for sure.