A NEW YEAR—AND ONE LESS HERO AMONGST US
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 01 January 2010
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Well, “acoloneloftruth” has been going strong for 14 months—every Friday plus a special every-once-in-a-while—and today launches a new year. When I started this Commentary I had no idea how long I would continue—my intent was and remains to keep going as long as I have something to say or just get tired of transferring thought from brain to print. Those of you who know me well know the likelihood of me running out of something to say is about as likely as President Obama producing his official birth certificate. As they say in the deep south, “T’aint gonna happen.” As for tiring of the transfer, that’s a possibility.
I write only because I want to. Trust me; I could just as easily spend the hours it takes me to craft these words each week with a paintbrush in my hand, teaching, reading, or fly-fishing. Or sundry things I enjoy in my “retired” life—to include an occasional nap. But the writing, if nothing else, helps me remain cynical and sane and keeps me mentally sharp. That I have some readers makes it a bit more fun and leads me to believe I bear some degree of responsibility to continue—even if that is nothing more than a self-perceived, delusional duty. As for the readership base, I have no idea how vast but I know it is far larger than the 34 of you (“Thank you very much”) that have taken the time to sign on as a “Follower.”
How do I know folks are reading? Week after week I receive emails from readers I do not know--from all over the country and abroad. Interestingly, from outside the U.S., readers in Canada and Norway first come to mind. And folks are tuning in from coast to coast in the United States. A smattering of those reading includes generals and admirals; a retired New York City police officer who stumbled on my site months ago; friends from and of the Marine Corps; college, high school, junior high and even grade school classmates I’ve reconnected with after decades (thanks to Facebook); family—in-laws and “out-laws;” friends of friends of friends; parents and other kinfolk of friends of friends of friends; complete strangers; and the list goes on.
If you read, I appreciate it. Thank you. If you are a regular reader and not already a bona fide “Follower” then I kindly ask you become one—even if you use an alias—so I have a better handle on the numbers tuning in. If you are one that takes a moment to post a comment once in a while or send an email I appreciate it even more. Of course I welcome all opinions—the beauty of freedom--and only ask, if disagreeing, never take it personal (I do not) and be civil corresponding.
Before jumping into today’s Commentary a brief follow-up to last week’s post titled “BALONEY.”
I received several short notes from military folks with their own tales of “wannabe”--folks who only claim to have worn a military uniform--encounters. One came from “Big Mac” (a highly decorated retired Marine Colonel) who recalled for me many years ago sitting beside a guy on airplane who claimed service in Special Forces but “he could not talk about it and had to leave the service early”—blah, blah, blah. “Big Mac” said the guy was full of himself and he told the guy he couldn’t hear a word he was saying—hearing aids and they were not working too well. If you knew “Big Mac”—and I do—you’d know just how damn funny that is. “Big Mac” wears hearing aids but, between disgust and impatience, is not one to listen to baloney.
I also received a short note from a long-time friend--once a Marine officer and now a retired Navy Captain (SEAL). Dave offered his similar experiences with the “wannabes.” Can you imagine someone trying to BS a Navy SEAL? As he reinforced, these characters are everywhere. But the principle reason for Dave’s note was not to waste time on "wannabes" but to pass along a small act of brotherhood between Marines. Here’s the story...
A week or so before Christmas, Dave was waiting at Reagan National Airport to catch a flight from Washington, D.C. to his home on the west coast. While at the gate he noticed a young Marine sitting alone and went over to introduce himself and chitchat—there are no strangers amongst Marines. Anyway, Dave learned the young man was heading home to visit his four year old daughter for the holidays—his unit, an infantry battalion, would soon deploy. Dave asked to see the Marine’s boarding pass. He then approached the gate agent and asked that his (Dave’s) First Class seat be given to the Marine and Dave would take the Marine’s coach seat. No problem. Dave then handed the Marine his First Class seat and said, “Merry Christmas, my gift to you."
I always knew Dave had a lot class. Now a young Marine knows it and rest assured he will never forget that gesture from a fellow Marine—a camaraderie unique to the Corps. If the “brotherhood” of the Corps had not already been cemented in that young man it was that day. “Bravo, Dave. Semper Fidelis.”
Now on to today’s Commentary…
I considered a handful of topics and even an unusual format of touching on each that was of interest to me but decided I had a duty to remind America that we lost another true hero a couple of days before Christmas.
On Wednesday, 23 December, in Waco, Texas, Colonel Robert L. Howard, U. S. Army (Retired) (1939-2009) died. Colonel Howard is considered among the most, if not the most, decorated Soldier in the history of the United States Army.
Colonel Howard’s distinction is saying something considering the mind-boggling service of another highly decorated Army colonel, David Hackworth (1930-2005), who, though never awarded the Medal of Honor, was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses (heroism in combat); ten Silver Stars (heroism in combat); four Legions of Merit; one Distinguished Flying Cross; eight Bronze Stars with “V” (Valor in combat); eight Purple Hearts (wounded in combat); and thirty-three Air Medals. And those are just the top end of more than 90 decorations and awards.
Unlike another Army veteran and American hero, Colonel Lewis Millett, I wrote about in an earlier Commentary, I never had the privilege of meeting Colonel Hackworth (though my brother had the honor at a book-signing years ago) or Colonel Howard. And, that is regrettable.
As an enlisted man, Colonel Howard was nominated three times for the Medal of Honor. He was awarded one. A bit more on that matter in a moment. His other decorations include two awards of the Distinguished Service Cross (heroism in combat); Silver Star (heroism in combat); Defense Superior Service Medal; four awards of the Legion of Merit; four Bronze Stars with “V” (Valor in combat); eight Purple Hearts (wounded in combat); three Meritorious Service Medals; three Air Medals—one with a “V” (Valor in combat); and those are merely the most significant of his decorations.
Colonel Howard also earned a chest full of other decorations, tabs, and badges from the U.S. Army and sundry foreign decorations. Among his U.S. Army achievements are the tabs for Ranger and Special Forces, and badges for Combat Infantryman, Expert Infantryman, Aircrew, Master Parachutist, Pathfinder, Air Assault, and Expert Marksmanship.
As mentioned earlier, Colonel Howard was nominated three times for the Medal of Honor. According to record, the first two awards were, because of the secrecy of his work, downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross. The third nomination for the distinctive medal worn around the neck and awarded by the President was approved. And though Colonel Howard was a first lieutenant at the time of the award, he was a Sergeant First Class at the time of his actions. His bravery is set forth in the following citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 1st Lt. Howard (then SFC), distinguished himself while serving as platoon sergeant of an American-Vietnamese platoon which was on a mission to rescue a missing American soldier in enemy controlled territory in the Republic of Vietnam. The platoon had left its helicopter landing zone and was moving out on its mission when it was attacked by an estimated 2-company force. During the initial engagement, 1st Lt. Howard was wounded and his weapon destroyed by a grenade explosion. 1st Lt. Howard saw his platoon leader had been wounded seriously and was exposed to fire. Although unable to walk, and weaponless, 1st Lt. Howard unhesitatingly crawled through a hail of fire to retrieve his wounded leader. As 1st Lt. Howard was administering first aid and removing the officer's equipment, an enemy bullet struck one of the ammunition pouches on the lieutenant's belt, detonating several magazines of ammunition. 1st Lt. Howard momentarily sought cover and then realizing that he must rejoin the platoon, which had been disorganized by the enemy attack, he again began dragging the seriously wounded officer toward the platoon area. Through his outstanding example of indomitable courage and bravery, 1st Lt. Howard was able to rally the platoon into an organized defense force. With complete disregard for his safety, 1st Lt. Howard crawled from position to position, administering first aid to the wounded, giving encouragement to the defenders and directing their fire on the encircling enemy. For 3 1/2 hours 1st Lt. Howard's small force and supporting aircraft successfully repulsed enemy attacks and finally were in sufficient control to permit the landing of rescue helicopters. 1st Lt. Howard personally supervised the loading of his men and did not leave the bullet-swept landing zone until all were aboard safely. 1st Lt. Howard's gallantry in action, his complete devotion to the welfare of his men at the risk of his life were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
Colonel Howard was a Soldier—in every sense of the word. There is no argument he did his duty--and then some.
A couple of weeks back I wrote a Commentary about Tiger Woods and his misbehavior. In that Commentary I included mention of the great Russian painter Nicolai Fechin who, when asked which was the greatest of the arts, said something along the lines of, ‘when you find yourself in the presence of creativity take off your hat.’
Well it occurred to me that creativity is not the only attribute that merits the doffing of one’s hat. As a final tribute to Colonel Howard, America, if only symbolically, doffs her hat in honor of an American warrior’s selfless and extraordinary service to country--bravery on the battlefield that, at times, surely called for creativity. Those who have ever worn a uniform remain covered and render a crisp salute.
Taps. Rest in peace, Colonel Howard.