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)