Monday, May 29, 2017


   Today is Memorial Day in the US, which looks back to an era when war was still considered a last resort of policy. Ordinary men were called upon to defend their country and often rose to incredible acts of heroism. Our effete era is inclined to look upon such deeds with a cynical sneer, though recent events in Portland show that the flame may not be totally extinguished.

     During the US Civil War, the Government established the Congressional Medal of Honor as the highest military award in the country. Literally thousands of American men have earned this honor, often posthumously, and include some of the most incredible deeds. There are stories of a WW2 medic who saved 75 wounded men under Japanese fire. A WW1 sailor trying to untangle deadly depth-charges from his ship's lines used his body to block an oncoming torpedo and saved his crew. During the Sioux Indian War, a soldier retrieved a mule loaded with ammunition back from behind enemy lines under 20 minutes of sustained fire and saved his regiment from the same fate as General Custer. And so on.

      This is not to say there were no decorated heroes in previous wars. The Military Medal of Merit was awarded to heroes of the Revolutionary War and subsequent conflicts. The first recipient of America's highest honor was leading a reconnaissance patrol of 12 men to investigate reports of a British outpost in the area. On his own initiative, he attacked and destroyed the camp. Learning from the prisoners of a second camp, he attacked it too and returned to his unit with 54 prisoners.

     There were a small group of veterans who actually won the Congressional Medal of Honor twice.

     Lt. Frank Baldwin was decorated for a daring and successful counterattack during the Civil War. In 1874, on his own initiative and heavily outnumbered, he led a raid on an Indian camp to rescue two girls who were being held hostage.

      Maj. Smedley Butler won the award in 1914 and 1915, first for rescuing Americans trapped in Veracruz, Mexico and then for a hand-to-hand battle against Haitian guerrillas that ended in the capture of a fort.

      Sailor John Cooper won two in 1864 and 1865. During a naval battle, he singlehandedly captured a Confederate monitor. The following year, he was decorated for entering a burning explosives' shack under heavy fire to rescue a wounded sailor.

    Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly won his first medal in 1900 for heroism during the 55-day embassy siege in Beijing, China. His second came in 1915, when ambushed and heavily outnumbered by Haitian guerrillas, he fought his way to a redoubt and held off the attack for three days.

     Sgt. Henry Hogan was awarded the Medal in 1876 for holding off a superior number of Sioux Indians, allowing his men to escape. In 1877, he risked his life again to save a wounded officer, carrying him back to safety under heavy fire.

      Sailor John McCloy won his first Medal on the 1900 Chinese Expedition which freed the embassy hostages. In 1914, though severely wounded, McCloy drew enemy fire in Veracruz, allowing the rescued American citizens to escape from another point.

     The criterion for receiving a CMH is conduct "above and beyond the call of duty." This is the high standard men set for themselves. A good man does his duty, and a hero goes beyond that. In a society where virtually every portrayal of masculinity is negative; it's good to reflect upon what men are capable of doing.



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