Saturday, September 21, 2013

Reflecting Heroism, September 2013

By Bill Doughty

This has been a month to reflect on the meaning of service, sacrifice and courage in the face of violence.

The week began with a terrible tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard at the Naval Sea Systems Command less than a week after 9/11.  It is ending with memorials, commemoration and more reflection.  

Throughout the week there have been expressions of grief and resolve.  Tomorrow, the nation will pause to honor those killed in the mass shooting last Monday.

Remembering POWs and MIAs  

In different ceremonies across the nation, DOD and Navy leaders paid respect to other patriots, including Prisoners of War and missing servicemembers.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with Rolling Thunder Sept. 20, 2013.  
(Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)
Yesterday, at a Pentagon ceremony, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said, “Americans in uniform today are inspired by the fierce resolve of generations of American POWs.  We also draw inspiration from the bonds of camaraderie, compassion, and love that prompted our POWs to care for each other, and sustain each other, through terrible, terrible months and years of hardship.”

Addressing families and friends of missing servicemember, Hagel said, “Words and promises cannot make the lingering uncertainty and heartache go away.  But I hope it provides comfort to know that as long as members of our armed forces remain unaccounted for, the Department of Defense will do whatever we can to find them and bring them home.”

Portraits of Valor in War

In a ceremony at Naval Base San Diego yesterday, the Navy named three Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyers for three heroes in three conflicts -- WWII, Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Named in the ceremony Sept. 20 were: USS John Finn (DDG 113), USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) and USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115).  The names were selected by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who was unable to attend the ceremony because of the shooting tragedy at the Navy Yard.

The building of these ships has been overseen and coordinated by the men and women of Naval Sea Systems Command.

Beyond the Call of Duty

During this time of reflection, an inspiring book to pick up is “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty” by photographer Nick Del Calzo and writer Peter Collier.

This large tabletop book gives a synopsis of the heroism of each Medal of Honor recipient living at the time it was published.

My copy is from 2003 and offers a forward by former President and WWII Veteran George H. W. Bush.

“The Medal of Honor pays homage to comrades who have given their lives for this great country.  These gallant souls, in their heroism and their humility, epitomize the nobility of service to country and of service above self,” Bush writes, concluding, “Americans for all times will treasure the gifts that these brave warriors have given to all of us so selflessly.”

John and wife Alice Finn in 1933.
John Finn was still living when this edition was published.  He is featured in photos in his beloved American West and as a young man with his sweetheart on a motorcycle.  The narrative in “Medal of Honor” recounts his courageous response on the morning of the attack on Oahu of Dec. 7, 1941.
“Finn found a mobile instruction stand on which guns were sometimes mounted to teach gunnery.  Although enemy planes continued to strafe the position, he moved the stand into a parking area where he would have clear visibility. Then he set a .50-caliber machine gun on it and began to shoot ... Finn had been hit by shrapnel in twenty-one places; several were serious wounds.  His left arm was numb, and a bullet had passed through one foot.  Following medical treatment, he returned to the squadron area and supervised the rearming of the remaining American planes.” 

Gen. (ret.) Richard B. Myers, then CJCS, and Lt. (ret.) John Finn look at
“Medal of Honor” book. (Photo by Mamie Mae Burke, Jan. 19, 2005.)
This book includes essays by Tom Brokaw and Senator John McCain, a POW during Vietnam who writes compellingly about owing his life to Medal of Honor recipient Air Force Maj. George “Bud” Day and Maj. Norris Overly.   Day is profiled in Del Cazo’s and Collier’s book.

McCain writes about fellow prisoners Rear Adm. Jim Stockdale and Captain Lance Sijan, both of whom showed how to live the principles of the Code of Conduct.

“As you read in these pages about Bud, Jim, and Lance, and Leo Thorsness and Jon Cavaiani, who were in prison with us, and about my friends Bob Kerrey and Dan Inouye, and all the other heroes whose extraordinary service to America is memorialized in this book you will be awed, as I am, not only by their courage and character, but by the country that produced such men and that was ennobled by the example they set for the rest of us.”

Included in the 2003 version of “Medal of Honor” are Eugene B. Fluckey, Hiroshi H. Miyamura, Donald E. Ballard, Robert E. Bush, Rodolfo P. Hernandez, George T. Sakato, William R. Charette and Ernest Childers, along with dozens of others.

A newer edition of this book includes an introduction from Brian Williams and letters from all living presidents, including President Barack Obama, who will be attending a memorial tomorrow, as announced Thursday by Press Secretary Jay Carney, “to mourn the loss of these innocent victims and share in the nation’s pain in the aftermath of another senseless mass shooting.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, second from right, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus stand during the playing of taps at a wreath-laying at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 17, 2013. The defense leaders held the small ceremony to remember the 12 victims of the Sept. 16 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

No comments: