A little flotsam, a little jetsam

The following three links don’t have anything to do with each other, but I wanted to bring each to your attention.

First, an article by Ben Sasse about Obamacare’s horrible, inherent flaws.  The article is great on its own terms.  It’s also worth reading because Sasse is running for the U.S. Senate seat for Nebraska as the “anti-Obama care” candidate.  What’s fascinating is that he raised more money more quickly than any candidate ever in Nebraska history.  Like Ted Cruz, he’s an Ivy League graduate, which doesn’t particularly impress me (I have a very low opinion of the Leftist Ivy Leagues) but it certainly make it more difficult for Democrats to deride these men as brainless idiots.

Second, I simply liked this story about a young Israeli whose preexisting medical condition gave him an easy out from the Army, but who nudged and nagged and worked for a year and half so that he could be allowed to serve his country.

Third, an Army officer is awarded the Medal of Honor.  When the headlines wear us down, it’s important to remember that 40 years of Leftist political and cultural drift haven’t entirely destroyed the American character.

Four articles that might interest you

I’m juggling family and work right now, so cannot blog at length (something that plagued me yesterday as well).  Still, I have four articles I think you might like to read.

One:  I’ve ruminated often here about the nature of heroism.  I’m not talking about the Leftist version of heroism, which is to stand up in a room full of Leftists and say “George Bush is stupid.”  I’m talking about real heroism, of the type displayed on the battlefield by Medal of Honor winners (and many who aren’t so honored), or in daily life, when one hears about the incredible risks people take to rescue strangers.  I’m physically cowardly, and I’m plagued by chronic analysis paralysis.  The Anchoress, who is not a coward, nevertheless writes about her moment with analysis paralysis.  I think she’s too hard on herself, since she was analyzing a possible threat, rather than dealing with a real one.  Even more interestingly, the Anchoress writes from a Christian perspective, which adds another layer to her ruminations.

Two:  All I can say is that this is one woman who must have a very peculiar sex life if her mind works this way.  (H/t:  Sadie)

Three:  It’s shocking that Dakota Meyer’s translator at the Battle of Ganjgal, in Afghanistan, cannot get a visa to the U.S.  Here’s a view from a Military Times blog, and here’s the write-up I did at Mr. Conservative.  As you read about this, you’ll probably think of the Pakistani doctor who helped us catch bin Laden, but who is languishing in a Pakistani prison.  The rule in America under Obama is that the American government (especially the State Department) will abandon you if you serve us with your life:  we’ll abandon you in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan, and in Benghazi.  There are no limits to how badly we will treat our friends.

Four:  I mentioned in an earlier post Dennis Prager’s article about the fact that several self-righteous Leftist publications have announced that, regardless of what the Redskins’ management, players, and fans want, these magazines will never again sully their paper or electronic pages with the evil “R” word.  I was especially struck by the way Prager, attacking The Atlantic’s explanation for supporting this stand, honed in on the perverse moralizing that characterizes the Left:

Argument Four is the key argument, offered by The Atlantic, in its support of Slate:

“Whether people ‘should’ be offended by it or not doesn’t matter; the fact that some people are offended by it does.”

Response: This is classic modern liberalism. It is why I have dubbed our age “The Age of Feelings.”

In a fashion typical of progressives, the Atlantic writer commits two important errors.

First, it does matter “whether people ‘should’ feel offended.” If we ceased using all arguments or descriptions because “some people” feel offended, we would cease using any arguments or descriptions. We should use the “reasonable person” test to determine what is offensive, not the “some people are offended” criterion.

[snip]

Teaching people to take offense is one of the Left’s black arts. Outside of sex and drugs, the Left is pretty much joyless and it kills joy constantly. The war on the “Redskins” name is just the latest example.

Second, it is the Left that specializes in offending: labeling the Tea Party racist, public cursing, displaying crucifixes in urine, and regularly calling Republicans evil (Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column last month, wrote that the Republican mindset “takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.”) For such people to find the name “Redskins” offensive is a hoot.  (Emphasis mine.)

Please read the whole thing.

The media again attacks the military

I came of age in the post-Vietnam era.  Let me amend that:  I came of age in San Francisco in the post-Vietnam era.  Although Fleet Week, which started in the City about 20+ years ago has done a lot to turn things around, San Francisco has not been a military friendly city, and most definitely was not so in the decade after Vietnam.  Every institution was hostile to the military.  I grew up knowing, probably from the San Francisco Comical, with increasingly large dollops of help from ABC, NBC and CBS, that military vets were deranged.

This was my first run-in with cognitive dissonance.  You see, I knew a ton of military vets.  The difference was that they weren’t Vietnam Vets but were, instead, WWII and Israeli War Vets.  And they weren’t deranged.  At all.  Many of them were sad men, who had seen too much, but they were all highly functional men who married, raised children, held jobs, and helped out a lot around the house.  My parents explained to me that Vietnam Vets were deranged because they were all drug addicts, except that didn’t make sense either.  The drug addicts I knew (and I was in San Francisco and at Berkeley) weren’t the vets; instead, they were the ones that had stayed behind.

Hmmm.  The first step in crossing the Rubicon was figuring out that the media has the military in its cross hairs.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The latest casualty of the media’s war on the military is living Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer.  Although the McClatchy news organization readily concedes that he acted with unparalleled bravery, it’s making a big push to say he didn’t really act with that much bravery.  This story stinks for a few reasons.  First, it leaves a strong impression that Meyer lied, although a careful textual reading shows that it’s really claiming that the Marine Corps itself exaggerated.  The Marines shouldn’t have exaggerated, but this story still should have been left alone.  Why?  Because as Jack Cashill explains, this kind of attack on an extraordinarily brave young man manages to highlight what an absymal job the media is doing when it comes to its main job — namely, keeping the public informed about its leaders and keeping politicians honest.

Think about it:  this is a media that tries to destroy the reputation of one indubitably brave, decent man, while it kept us in the dark in 2007 and 2008 about Obama’s entire history and, even now, is doing its best to bury such interesting stories as Fast and Furious (which the blogosphere cares about, but the MSM has ignored almost entirely) or Solyndra (ditto).

I shouldn’t really be so surprised or angry, I guess.  This disdain for and hostility towards the military is reflexive and pervasive in our media.  But I can’t help it.  It still hacks me off.

(P.S.  I do suggest, though, that military types don’t do things like this.  It’s one thing to do your job and get savaged by idiots.  It’s another thing to hand them red meat on a silver platter.)

The moral space in between

America’s First Sergeant put up a post that perfectly addresses my last two attempts to figure out Mike McQueary’s inaction.  The first post I wrote looked at McQueary’s alleged youth, which I contrasted with the even youthier youth of a few Medal of Honor recipients who didn’t hesitate to act.  The second (with lots of help from jj) examined the prevailing moral relativism that gives a pass to all conduct (except, of course, for voting conservative).

If you read A1stS’s post, which reprints portions of a speech that Colonel Barton S. Sloat gave, you will see a perfect statement about the moral compass each of us should have and that, in an unbalanced age, many are missing.

Because for me it’s always about politics, I’m going to drag poor old Newt in here for a minute.  In a normal election year, I don’t think Newt, with all of his undoubted baggage, would have a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning.  But 2012 won’t be a normal election year.

Past elections have seen the candidates fighting each other in the middle — a little tax more or a little less; a little more foreign aggression or a little less; a little of this and a little of that.  Obama’s presidency, however, ripped America from her long-standing economic and foreign policy moorings.  It also swept away the warm, fuzzy media manipulation that had prevented ordinary people from seeing the Left up close and personal.  The result is that the 2012 election isn’t taking place in the middle.  It will be a profound ideological war about America’s identity.

In 2012, we will not longer be talking about a tax tweak here and a battalion there, although those concrete details matter to America’s survival.  Instead, we are talking about the moral space in between:  Are we a country guided by a traditional morality that lives in each citizen’s heart and soul, or are we a vast government conglomeration with faceless cogs entirely controlled by bureaucratic powers?

In this heated ideological environment, will victory go to the candidate who is pretty darn conservative and whose life is a model for moderation and purity (that would be Romney, who may flip-flop, but he’s still to the right of the political divide), or does it go to the candidate who comes with more shackles attached than Marley’s ghost, but who can spell out in lively, fluid, accessible prose what we stand for as a nation?

I suspect that whether Newt or Mitt becomes president, we’ll see a situation that will be six of one and half dozen of the other in terms of governance.  However, when it comes to defining us as a nation, and perhaps helping us determining how we want to fill the moral space in between, Newt may well be the 2012 candidate we need, even if we don’t always want him.

Post Script:  If you want to see the vapidity the fills those spaces during evil’s off hours, check out The Mellow Jihadi on the Kardashians.

McQueary’s age is no excuse for his lukewarm, delayed action

Dan Abrams, who’s some sort of ABC talking head, has weighed in about Mike McQueary.  Because I’ve already flogged the topic to death in other posts, I won’t explain here why I strongly disagree with his argument that McQueary really didn’t do anything that wrong.

What intrigued me in the article was a point I’ve seen others make, but that Abrams makes with beautiful clarity (emphasis mine):

In retrospect, should McQueary have been satisfied with that? No way. Should he have done more? Yes. Could he have done more? Of course. Should he be celebrated as a hero because, as he put it, he “made sure it stopped?” No. But many have even suggested that McQueary is monstrous for having called his father for guidance before immediately reporting the incident. Is that really so hard to understand? A 28-year-old, so troubled by what he has seen in his workplace, that he calls his father for counsel?

McQueary has been described in most articles as a student (albeit a graduate student), which implies that he was very young at the time.  In fact, as Abrams establishes, he was 28.  Twenty-eight.  Not twelve.  Not ten.  Not even just turned twenty-one.  Ten years before witnessing his boss raping a child (and description of his boss’s activity is per McQueary’s own grand jury testimony), he’d earned as a matter of law the right to vote; to marry without parental permission; and to go off to war, with really cool weapons in his hands.  Seven years earlier, he’d been given official permission to buy alcohol.  He’d passed all the milestones of youth, and then some.  He was not a child.  By my lights, he was a man.

Now, I think it’s very nice that McQueary has a close relationship with his father.  I hope to have a close relationship with my kids until the day I die.  I hope, too, that they continue to see me as a source of wisdom, someone they can turn to for advice or just to kick around interesting ideas.  But I also hope that, by the time my kids are 28, I will have done my parenting job sufficiently well that, if they see an older man anally raping a 10 year old child, they will intercede immediately, rather than having to sneak out of the room so that, some hours later, they can ask me for advice.

Sorry, Dan Abrams.  Sorry, Mike McQueary.  Mike’s “youth” is not an excuse.

And just to give you a little perspective:

Dakota Meyer, 21 when he engaged in the conduct that earned him the Medal of Honor:

Rank and Organization: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps.

Corporal Meyer maintained security at a patrol rally point while other members of his team moved on foot with two platoons of Afghan National Army and Border Police into the village of Ganjgal for a pre-dawn meeting with village elders. Moving into the village, the patrol was ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters firing rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and machine guns from houses and fortified positions on the slopes above. Hearing over the radio that four U.S. team members were cut off, Corporal Meyer seized the initiative. With a fellow Marine driving, Corporal Meyer took the exposed gunner’s position in a gun-truck as they drove down the steeply terraced terrain in a daring attempt to disrupt the enemy attack and locate the trapped U.S. team. Disregarding intense enemy fire now concentrated on their lone vehicle, Corporal Meyer killed a number of enemy fighters with the mounted machine guns and his rifle, some at near point blank range, as he and his driver made three solo trips into the ambush area. During the first two trips, he and his driver evacuated two dozen Afghan soldiers, many of whom were wounded. When one machine gun became inoperable, he directed a return to the rally point to switch to another gun-truck for a third trip into the ambush area where his accurate fire directly supported the remaining U.S. personnel and Afghan soldiers fighting their way out of the ambush. Despite a shrapnel wound to his arm, Corporal Meyer made two more trips into the ambush area in a third gun-truck accompanied by four other Afghan vehicles to recover more wounded Afghan soldiers and search for the missing U.S. team members. Still under heavy enemy fire, he dismounted the vehicle on the fifth trip and moved on foot to locate and recover the bodies of his team members. Corporal Meyer’s daring initiative and bold fighting spirit throughout the 6-hour battle significantly disrupted the enemy’s attack and inspired the members of the combined force to fight on. His unwavering courage and steadfast devotion to his U.S. and Afghan comrades in the face of almost certain death reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Sal Guinta, 22 when he engaged in the conduct that earned him the Medal of Honor:

Rank and Organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry,173d Airborne Brigade.

Place and date: Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, 25 October 2007. Entered service at: Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Born: 25 January 1985, Clinton, Iowa. Citation: Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, on October 25, 2007. While conducting a patrol as team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, Specialist Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta’s body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta’s unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy. Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, and the United States Army.

Michael Monsoor, 25 when he gave his life in Iraq, earning a posthumous Medal of Honor:

Rank and Organization: Master-At-Arms Second Class (Sea, Air And Land), United States Navy
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as automatic weapons gunner for Naval Special Warfare Task Group Arabian Peninsula, in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 29 September 2006. As a member of a combined SEAL and Iraqi Army Sniper Overwatch Element, tasked with providing early warning and stand-off protection from a rooftop in an insurgent held sector of Ar Ramadi, Iraq, Petty Officer Monsoor distinguished himself by his exceptional bravery in the face of grave danger. In the early morning, insurgents prepared to execute a coordinated attack by reconnoitering the area around the element’s position. Element snipers thwarted the enemy’s initial attempt by eliminating two insurgents. The enemy continued to assault the element, engaging them with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire. As enemy activity increased, Petty Officer Monsoor took position with his machine gun between two teammates on an outcropping of the roof. While the SEALs vigilantly watched for enemy activity, an insurgent threw a hand grenade from an unseen location, which bounced off Petty Officer Monsoor’s chest and landed in front of him. Although only he could have escaped the blast, Petty Officer Monsoor chose instead to protect his teammates. Instantly and without regard for his own safety, he threw himself onto the grenade to absorb the force of the explosion with his body, saving the lives of his two teammates. By his undaunted courage, fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of certain death, Petty Officer Monsoor gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

I could go on, but it will just make me cry, and I assume I’ve made my point:  McQueary’s age is no excuse.

I’ll say here again that I don’t know whether I would have done any better in the same situation than McQueary. I’m perfectly willing to concede that I would have fallen prey to analysis paralysis, disbelief, denial, organizational paranoia, etc. But the fact that I too might have behaved badly does not excuse McQueary, a 28 year old man, from failing to do the right and proper thing, which was to act immediately to protect a small child.

Dakota Meyer; or who carries the seeds of greatness?

Navy One brought my attention to the fact that America’s 1st Sergeant once served with Medal of Honor winner Dakota Meyer.  I quickly headed over to the link, anticipating some reminiscences about Meyer.  Am’s 1st Sgt didn’t include any.  Instead, he repeated Meyer’s own words, spoken after the fact:

I didn’t think I was going to die, I knew I was. I was just going to keep fighting until they got me. I wasn’t going to sit there and lay down and let them win. That was the only thing on my mind was how to get those guys out. I would’ve done it again.

I was a little disappointed not to learn more about Meyer himself from one who worked closely with him.  This silence on  Am’s 1st Sgt’s part got me wondering what I was expecting to read.

Did I want to hear that, from day one, Meyer was marked by greatness, so that those who served with him felt it was inevitable that he would be awarded the nation’s highest military honor?  Reading things like that helps one come to terms with being ordinary.  “Hey, it’s okay that I’ve never done, nor will ever do, something special.  The ones who do something special are already tagged by God.”

Or perhaps I wanted to hear that Meyer, up until his moment of bravery and self-sacrifice was an ordinary Joe, just another good ol’ boy in the Marines, and that, while everyone liked him, nobody ever expected those vast reserves of raw courage.  That’s also a good one, because it says that, until we are tested, we don’t know who or what we are.  Sure, I’m just a stealth suburban blogger, hiding my true identity from those around me but, if push comes to shove, I too am capable of stepping outside my own fears and limitations.

These aren’t just random thoughts.  They actually started a few days ago when I saw this video:

The video shows an accident scene in Logan, Utah.  A motorcyclist plowed into a car, his motorcycle burst into flames, and he slid under the car, unconscious.  The burning motorcycle made the entire scene dangerous.  The bystanders, instead of running away, investigated the scene, analyzed the risks to the motorcyclist (refrain from moving an injured man lest one causes worse injuries or run the risk that the car will explode) and then, having decided that immolation was the greatest risk, in one huge frenzy of energy, flipped the car over and dragged the motorcyclist out.  They saved the motorcyclist but, at the same time, each and every one of those bystanders risked death or injury.  None of them, I’m sure, went to work that day assuming that they’d be faced with that kind of decision-making.

In England a short while ago, it was a 22-year-old woman who showed physical and moral courage.  Two drunken thugs were brutally beating a man in public.  People drove by or watched.  Twenty-two year old Aimee Yule, a taxi dispatcher, chased the thugs away, administered help to the injured man and, when the thugs returned, actually used physical force against them.  Ms. Yule’s own thoughts on the subject bear noting:

She said outside court: ‘I couldn’t believe no one else was stopping to help him, there were loads of cars going past.

‘People were stopping and calling ambulances and the police, but no one came over. He got knocked out and there was blood coming out of his mouth.

‘When I approached they moved away, but they kept coming back to kick him.

‘One of them ran towards me and lifted his hand but I stood still and told him to leave. Luckily, he never hit me.

‘I was just sitting with him trying to stop them. I said “that’s enough, he’s had enough, please just leave it.”

I couldn’t believe more people had not stopped, cars had to swerve round them and some had stopped at the other side of the road to watch, but nobody came to help.’

Miss Yule said the incident left her badly shaken. She added: ‘I wouldn’t normally get involved with something like that, but I just thought, that’s somebody’s son being stamped on in the middle of that road.’

Bravery, then, seems to be an amalgam of moral courage and low brain function.  Think too much, and it’s all over — you can always talk yourself out of the risk.

The Logan scene notwithstanding, crowds also seem to inhibit courage.  I became aware of this several years ago when a crowd of people stood around and watched as a deranged man stomped his two-year old son to death on a public road.  The bystanders all seemed to be watching each other for cues.  Each was apparently wondering whether s/he was reading the situation correctly or was running the risk of public humiliation through overreaction.  And each person, by worrying about the others’ responses, stood paralyzed as a child died.

These stories are one of the reasons I love MMA.  I’d like to think that if, God forbid, I’m ever confronted with the need to act, I’ll have drilled sufficiently that I’ll be able to dive in without thinking.  It’s the analysis paralysis that worries me, since I’m an over-thinker at the best of times.   I work hard so that I’ll do the right thing, instead of berating myself later for failing to act at all.

Dakota Meyer, American hero

I hate hearing the word “hero” thrown around with the casual abandon we see today:  he’s a sports hero, he’s an “action” (movie) hero, she’s a heroic teacher.  I don’t mean to denigrate people who are brilliant athletes, entertaining movie stars, or dedicated teachers.  It’s just that “hero” is the wrong word, and it cheapens a word that should be freighted with ideas about taking incredible personal risks to save others.  Dakota Meyer, Medal of Honor winner, is a real hero in every sense of the word.  Read his story and be awed.

He’s a young man still, so I wish him a long life that is fulfilling and happy.  He deserves it, and then some.

Medal of Honor winner SSG Sal Giunta — and thoughts about the president bestowing that honor

I want to send you to two posts at Blackfive, since they go together. The first post has an interview with SSG Sal Giunta, the first living Medal of Honor winner in the post 9/11 era. They are both interesting and moving.

When Matt sent the email giving the heads up about the post, I fired off a series of questions right back at him:  Does it matter to the recipient the presidential hand from which the Medal comes?  Is it more meaningful if it comes from a Bush, who supports the troops and the mission, than if it comes from an Obama, who doesn’t?  Or does the honor of the Medal exist entirely independent of the presidential administration?  The latter should be true, but I wonder if it is.

It turns out, I’m not the first to have had those thoughts.  Deebow, who blogs at Blackfive, also wondered about whether the president matters, or if the award stands on its own.  Read what he has to say.  I agree with him.  Do you?

Let me just add that I am delighted that Giunta won the Medal of Honor, not only because he so clearly deserved it, but because he is alive.  I want to get away from the modern mentality that seems to say that the only good hero is a dead hero.

At long last: a living Medal of Honor winner, Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta *UPDATED*

As the last part of our Alaska cruise, which started and ended in Seattle, we went to the Museum of Flight.  I wrote about our museum visit here, and mention this earlier post because I wrote that all four of us were riveted by the monitor playing fairly extended interviews with living Medal of Honor winners from WWII, Korea and Vietnam.  These courageous men are treasures beyond compare, and death is not, and should not be, the only measure of bravery.  One of those treasures just got his due.

Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta, a man who thankfully still walks among us, was awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous acts of bravery in Afghanistan.  The official announcement, although brief, gives some idea of Staff Sgt. Giunta’s heroism and his commitment to his men:

When an insurgent force ambush split Specialist Giunta’s squad into two groups, he exposed himself to enemy fire to pull a comrade back to cover. Later, while engaging the enemy and attempting to link up with the rest of his squad, Specialist Giunta noticed two insurgents carrying away a fellow soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other, and provided medical aid to his wounded comrade while the rest of his squad caught up and provided security. His courage and leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American paratrooper from enemy hands.

There is much more to this story, and Blackfive promises updates with more details.  You can also read more at the Mudville Gazette.

I appreciate this story not just because Staff Sgt. Giunta got the recognition he deserves, but because his personality and conduct help send a larger message.  The news may make it look as if America going down for the last count, but stories like Staff Sgt. Giunta’s remind us that America has a core of strength that reveals itself in certain people, at certain times.  If we abuse that core too much, it will fail us; but if we look to it and cultivate it — well, Americans are a strong and compassionate people.

UPDATE:  A Stars and Stripes interview with Giunta.

“I fought for you — and I’d do it again”

One of the best things we did on our vacation was something we slotted in during the short time we had between arriving in Seattle at the end of our cruise and boarding our plane for home.  During those few hours, we went to the Museum of Flight, which is every bit as wonderful as you’d expect a museum in Boeing’s home town to be.  (It is not, in fact, a Boeing museum, although it incorporates Boeing’s original, albeit relocated, “red barn” into the exhibit.)

The museum has all the things you’d want to find in an institution dedicated to flying.  There are meticulously restored aircraft, ranging from a perfect model of the Wright Brothers’ first plane, to the Air Force One that ferried presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon, to an actual Concorde jet.  In between are mail planes from the twenties and thirties, exhibits about women aviatrixes, histories of the giants of flight, and all sorts of cool memorabilia from the heyday of flying, when it was still a cool, jet-setting experience.

That last, naturally, was in the days before hijackings and bombings, when people waltzed onto planes, and lived the high life.  Regardless of the reality of long hours in a cramped seat, flying then was redolent of romance and adventure.  Here’s a great song to put you mind of an experience some of you may actually remember:

What really made the museum, though, was the newly opened Personal Courage Hall, dedicated to aviation during World Wars One and Two:

Personal Stories
Meet ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances as they demonstrated the highest qualities of courage, dedication and heroism. The Personal Courage Wing . . .

  • Features exhibits dedicated to telling the stories not only of those who flew, but the people who designed, built and maintained these amazing aircraft.
  • Provides a fitting tribute to that “greatest generation” and an inspiring experience that motivates and encourages the next generation of innovative thinkers and inventors.
  • Highlights stories of the American Fighter Aces and the American Volunteer Group—the “Flying Tigers”—who now make The Museum of Flight their official home.

Unforgettable Experiences
Revisit the sights, sounds and sensations of bygone eras. The Personal Courage Wing . . .

  • Tells the history and evolution of World War I and II fighter aviation through state-of-the-art exhibits, flight simulations and interactive experiences unlike any this Museum has ever created.
  • Gives visitors a feeling of reliving history through innovative exhibits and displays with highly dramatic lighting, realistic sounds and theatrical sets.
  • Provides a highly immersive environment using dioramas and displays such as observation balloons, French and German airfields, a pilots’ lounge, a French farmhouse, a battlefield trench, a Quonset hut and an aircraft carrier flight deck.
  • Includes new technology and multimedia presentations such as an aircraft ID kiosk and database, in-depth oral histories, vintage film footage and photos.
  • Offers an exciting new educational live theater program—Amazing Skies Theater—in which actors interact with visitors and bring aviation history to life by recreating characters from the military past and by retelling the courageous exploits of fighter pilots.

Priceless Artifacts
See the planes and artifacts that helped forge the history of a century and learn how that history shaped our world today. The Personal Courage Wing . . .

  • Showcases 28 restored World War I and World War II fighter planes in two galleries—including one of the finest collections of historic fighters found anywhere in the world—the internationally known Champlin Fighter Collection.
  • Includes famous fighters such as the Spitfire, Sopwith Camel and P-38, as well as the less celebrated, but extremely rare, Soviet Yak.
  • Provides a “black-box” environment that controls exposure to harmful ultraviolet light and humidity, enabling the Museum to display personal artifacts and fragile items like documents, uniforms, letters and vintage photos that previously could not be displayed.

The above description doesn’t give you a sense of the immediacy of the exhibit.  There’s something riveting about staring directly at the white silk scarf a long-ago aviator war during a WWI dog fight, or seeing the heart breaking, blue ink letter one pilot wrote to another describing a third one’s death during an aerial battle over Germany in WWII.

It helps that the wars themselves have an emotional resonance.  World War I, which was truly the birth of the modern era, was still fought with an almost insane 19th century valiance.  And World War II was, of course, the Good War.  That Allied troops may have erred and sinned occasionally does nothing to diminish the fact that these men (and women) fought with incredible courage against one of the greatest scourges in history.  The museum gives you a strong sense of the bravery, sacrifice and, frequently, good humor and eccentricity, that characterized these long-ago aviators.

My kids were riveted by the exhibit.  What engaged them from the first moment they walked through the doors was the small section dedicated to America’s Medal of Honor winners.  Side by side, mounted in towers about four feet high, stood two computers monitors.  On one, you could view information about every Medal of Honor winner, since the Medal’s inception.  (It’s the same information you can see here.)

The other computer featured interviews with living Medal of Honor recipients who fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  In each, the recipient told his story while footage played illustrating some of the details he described.  In keeping with the Medal’s purpose, each man narrated, with great humility and, almost, surprise, the way in which he rose above himself to achieve an impossible military goal or to save his comrades from certain death (or, often, both).  It was only the knowledge of our own plane’s imminent departure, coupled with our desire to see at least a bit more of the museum, that forced us to drag the kids away.

If you ever find yourself in Seattle, I urge you to carve out the time to visit the Museum of Flight and, specifically, the Personal Courage Hall.  It is worth your time.  And if you’re very lucky, you might get the added bonus we got.  As our taxi dropped us at the museum a few minutes before it opened, we saw at least a hundred people in the parking lot, all staring fixedly at next door Boeing field.  We stared too.  We would have done better to cover our ears (which we eventually did).  Within one minute of our arrival, with staggering speed and noise, an F15 took off, followed almost immediately by an F22.  We were awed by the combined magnificence of American engineering and aerial skill.

Because this post is dedicated, in significant part, to the sacrifice our troops have always made for us, I’d like to leave you with a moving video, from which comes the quote that is this post’s title. (H/t American Digest.)  My kids are learning this lesson, not through the schools, but through me.  I know yours will too.  Let’s hope we can reach the others out there as well:

R.I.P. Army Private First Class Ross McGinnis

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

Shakespeare, “Henry V” (5.3.44-51)

I thought of a soldier’s willingness to throw himself into the breach, to “imitate the action of the tiger,” when I read about Army Private First Class Ross McGinnis:

In the gunner’s hatch of a Humvee driving through Baghdad on December 4, 2006, Private McGinnis saw a grenade fly through the hatch, rolling to where it could have injured the four other soldiers inside. In easy position to leap and save himself, McGinnis instead jumped to cover the grenade with his body to shield his comrades.

The four men he saved were all at the White House yesterday to pay their respects. They and his parents, Thomas and Romayne McGinnis, knew Ross as one who, at 137 pounds and six feet tall, had barely outgrown his boyhood when he joined the Army on his 17th birthday, the first day he was eligible to enlist. The Knox, Pennsylvania native was known not to take things too seriously, the soldiers said – and yet in an instant he displayed the self-sacrifice that defines heroism in battle across generations. Although he didn’t grow while he was in the Army, “he seemed to stand a lot taller,” his father said. “He was a man.”

President Bush just awarded McGinnis a posthumous Medal of Honor.

For more on my thoughts about those who willingly face certain death to save their comrades, go here.