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The first Medal of Honor awarded to a living soldier since the Vietnam War was announced this week:
Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta will be the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War. On Thursday, President Obama spoke with Giunta, who is assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, in Vicenza, Italy, to inform him that he will be awarded the nation’s highest valor award, according to the White House.
There had been discussion of whether the Medal of Honor had become only a posthumous award:
The small number awarded and the fact that all were awarded posthumously has raised questions among members of Congress and senior military leaders. When asked by reporters, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in September the issue has been “a source of real concern to me.” He added: The Medal of Honor nomination process is “a very time-intensive, thorough process. But I would say that I’ve been told there are some living potential recipients that have been put forward,” he said during a Sept. 17 news conference.
Prior to Giunta, the last non-posthumous award of the Medal of Honor had been to Michael Edwin Thornton in October 1972.
Previously here and here. Both posts discussed the shifting standards for Medals of Honor, including the increasing percentage awarded posthumously. Now, there comes a report that a Medal of Honor recommendation has gone up to the White House for someone who survived their heroism:
The Pentagon has recommended that the White House consider awarding the Medal of Honor to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War, according to U.S. officials.
The last Medal of Honor given to a live recipient was to Michael Edwin Thornton, for actions on 31 October 1972. Thornton’s MOH also seems to have been the last one given in the Vietnam conflict (I can’t find any for actions dated later).
The nomination comes after several years of complaints from lawmakers, military officers and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the Pentagon had become so cautious that only troops whose bravery resulted in death were being considered for the Medal of Honor. Gates “finds it impossible to believe that there is no one who has performed a valorous act deserving of the Medal of Honor who has lived to tell about it,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, who declined to comment on specific nominations.
Given Gates’ comments, I’d be surprised if the White House didn’t approve the Medal of Honor.
Back in May, I wrote a post on Medals of Honor, and how the standards for awarding them seem to have changed. It was a quick look that focused particularly on how the de facto requirements for being given a Medal of Honor now, more and more, seem to include dying. In both Korea and Vietnam, more than 60% of Medals of Honor were posthumous, a dramatic shift from previously. As I said then:
The valor that garners a Medal of Honor has changed since the Civil War, when the award was first created. In fact, many of the ways that the Medal was previously given no longer hold. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that it is now extremely difficult–if not impossible–to get a Medal of Honor while surviving the acts of bravery.
We now have an interesting further case. Read the rest of this entry »
[Following up on this post.]
The valor that garners a Medal of Honor has changed since the Civil War, when the award was first created. In fact, many of the ways that the Medal was previously given no longer hold. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that it is now extremely difficult–if not impossible–to get a Medal of Honor while surviving the acts of bravery. The military denies that this is an official requirement, though there is skepticism:
The U.S. military appears to have toughened its standards for bestowing the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in battle, to exclude troops who survive their heroic acts, a California lawmaker charged Thursday.
Either troops are “not as brave as they used to be, which I don’t believe is true,” or the criteria for the award have been amended “so that you have to die” to receive it, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif., told the Army’s top civilian and uniformed leaders.
Hunter’s assertion during a House Armed Services Committee hearing drew a rebuke from Gen. George Casey, the former U.S. commander in Iraq who now serves as Army chief of staff. “There has been absolutely no effort” to limit the award to troops who’ve perished, Casey said.
Five Americans, all killed in action, have been awarded the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan. The total is far lower than that of past wars; 244 troops received the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Vietnam War, for example.
The last seven Medals of Honor have been given posthumously. Read the rest of this entry »
On this day in history, Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye, a Japanese-American from Hawaii, led his platoon into action near San Terenzo, Italy. Inouye, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, had left his medical studies to enlist in 1943, rising to the rank of Sergeant and then getting a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant. The war in Europe would end within the month, but the Germans were still defending their remnant of Italy fiercely. That day…but let Inouye describe the action:
We jumped off at first light. E Company’s objective was Colle Musatello, a high and heavily defended ridge. All three rifle platoons were to be deployed, two moving up in a frontal attack, with my platoon skirting the left flank and coming in from the side. Whichever platoon reached the heights first was to secure them against counterattack.
Off to the right I could hear the crackle of rifle fire as the 1st and 2nd platoons closed in on the German perimeter. For us, though, it went like a training exercise. Everything worked. What little opposition we met, we outflanked or pinned down until someone could get close enough to finish them off with a grenade. We wiped out a patrol and a mortar observation post without really slowing down. As a result we reached the main line of resistance long before the frontal assault force. We were right under the German guns, 40 yards from their bunkers. We had a choice of either continuing to move up or of getting out altogether.
We moved, and almost at once three machine guns opened up on us, pinning us down. I pulled a grenade from my belt and got up. Somebody punched me in the side, although there wasn’t a soul near me, and I half fell backward. Then I counted off three seconds as I ran toward the nearest machine gun. I threw the grenade and it cleared the log bunker, exploding in a shower of dirt. When the gun crew staggered erect, I cut them down. My men were coming up now, and I waved them toward the other two emplacements.
“My God, Dan,” someone yelled in my ear, “you’re bleeding! Get down and I’ll get an aid man.” I looked down to where my right hand was clutching my stomach. Blood oozed between my fingers. I thought, “That was no punch, you dummy. You took a slug in the gut.”
I wanted to keep moving. We were pinned down again and, unless we did something quickly they’d pick us off one at a time. I lurched up the hill again, and lobbed two grenades into the second emplacement before the gunners saw me. Then I fell to my knees. Somehow they wouldn’t lock and I couldn’t stand. I had to pull myself forward with one hand.
On this day in history, the United States took actions that symbolize the contradictions of the Pacific War, at home and abroad. On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which effected the internment of ethnic Japanese (Issei) and Japanese-Americans (Nisei) living in the western United States. Three years later, in 1945, forces of the 4th Assault Corps put two divisions on the black sands of Iwo Jima. In a sense, these linked days were, in their own particular way, indicative of the beginning and the end of the Pacific War. The internments–perhaps the most shameful act of Roosevelt’s Presidency–highlight the confusion, fear, and chaos of the immediate months after Pearl Harbor. Iwo Jima, at the other end, demonstrated the bloody grinding that the war had become by 1945.
The attack on Pearl Harbor had thrown the United States into war with Japan. It also reinforced suspicions that many Americans had about the Issei and Nisei living in the west. “Fifth column” activity had been a constant worry in the U.S. since the war in Europe started and suspicious individuals in the east had been questioned by the FBI for their connection to Germany or Italy. What was different in the American west, however, was the rapid shift–driven largely by racism–from the suspicion of individuals to the suspicion of the entire group. The panic that overtook the West Coast after Pearl Harbor soon focused–at least in part–on supposed Japanese fifth columnnists active in California, Oregon, and Washington. The Attorney General of California, Earl Warren, issued a study claiming that Japanese-Americans lived in greater numbers near sensitive military targets. This, Warren thought, meant that they were concentrating themselves and waiting for an opportunity at sabotage. General John L. DeWitt, the head of the Western Defense Command, echoed Warren’s assessment. The result, in mid-February, was Executive Order 9066, which laid the groundwork for the exclusion of individuals from sensitive “military areas.” Read the rest of this entry »