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Gallery of Heroes: True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.

Posted by Knitebane

So you're tooling along in your big, slow, ungainly flying boat. Your job: reconnaissance.  Down below, in the Bismark Sea, around the island of New Ireland, there is enormous destruction, planes shot out of the sky, coastal buildings burning. But you don't see that. You see the men that have bailed out, swimming around in the 10 to 15 foot waves waiting to either drown or be "rescued" by the Japanese forces on the island.

So you land your big, slow, ungainly flying boat  on the water. Your crew reaches out and grabs the downed aviators and then you wrench your big, slow, ungainly flying boat back into the air.

And you go back and do it twice more.

In total, you pluck 15 officers and men of the U.S. Army Air Forces out of the water.

Because that's what heroes do.

The Medal of Honor citation for U.S. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Nathan G. Gordon reads:

For extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty as commander of a Catalina patrol plane in rescuing personnel of the U.S. Army 5th Air Force shot down in combat over Kavieng Harbor in the Bismarck Sea, 15 February 1944. On air alert in the vicinity of Vitu Islands, Lt. (then Lt. j.g.) Gordon unhesitatingly responded to a report of the crash and flew boldly into the harbor, defying close-range fire from enemy shore guns to make 3 separate landings in full view of the Japanese and pick up 9 men, several of them injured. With his cumbersome flying boat dangerously overloaded, he made a brilliant takeoff despite heavy swells and almost total absence of wind and set a course for base, only to receive the report of another group stranded in a rubber life raft 600 yards from the enemy shore. Promptly turning back, he again risked his life to set his plane down under direct fire of the heaviest defenses of Kavieng and take aboard 6 more survivors, coolly making his fourth dexterous takeoff with 15 rescued officers and men. By his exceptional daring, personal valor, and incomparable airmanship under most perilous conditions, Lt. Gordon prevented certain death or capture of our airmen by the Japanese.

And you tell your superiors, "No, I'm no hero.  Give the medals to my men."  And they do.  Each one of your eight man crew is awarded the Silver Star.

But they still pin a medal on you.  Because you earned it.



Gallery of Heroes: Stay in the fight

Posted by Knitebane

In 2006 and 2007 one of the Morehead City, NC Veteran's Day parade grand marshals was Rudy Hernandez.

As you would expect of a marshal of a Veteran's Day parade, Mr. Hernandez is a veteran, specifically of the conflict in Korea.

Originally from California he joined the U.S. Army in 1948. He volunteered for paratrooper school and upon graduation was stationed in Germany until the outbreak of the Korean conflict.

Hernandez was reassigned to Company G of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. His platoon was ordered to defend Hill 420, located near Wonton-ni. On May 31, 1951, his platoon was the object of a numerically superior enemy counterattack.

During the fight his rifle ruptured and became unusable. Most people would find a reason to be somewhere else at that point.

Not Corporal Rodolpho Perez Hernandez. And that day he became a hero.

His Medal of Honor citation reads:

Cpl. Hernandez, a member of Company G, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. His platoon, in defensive positions on Hill 420, came under ruthless attack by a numerically superior and fanatical hostile force, accompanied by heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire which inflicted numerous casualties on the platoon. His comrades were forced to withdraw due to lack of ammunition but Cpl. Hernandez, although wounded in an exchange of grenades, continued to deliver deadly fire into the ranks of the onrushing assailants until a ruptured cartridge rendered his rifle inoperative. Immediately leaving his position, Cpl. Hernandez rushed the enemy armed only with rifle and bayonet. Fearlessly engaging the foe, he killed 6 of the enemy before falling unconscious from grenade, bayonet, and bullet wounds but his heroic action momentarily halted the enemy advance and enabled his unit to counterattack and retake the lost ground. The indomitable fighting spirit, outstanding courage, and tenacious devotion to duty clearly demonstrated by Cpl. Hernandez reflect the highest credit upon himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army.

The grenade explosion that knocked him unconscious blew away part of his brain. Corporal Hernandez, who had received grenade, bayonet, and bullet wounds, appeared dead to the first medic who reached him. The medic realized that Hernandez was still alive when he saw him move his fingers. Corporal Hernandez woke up a month later in a military hospital, unable to move his arms or legs or to talk.

After many surgeries and physical therapy over a five year period, Hernandez regained limited use of his right arm and learned to write with his left hand.

He is now retired from his job at the Veterans Administration and lives in Fayetteville, NC.


Gallery of Heroes: Is that a flare burning through your chest or are you just happy to see me?

Posted by Knitebane

A magnesium illumination flare burns at about 2,900 °F. If you have a magnesium fire onboard ship, you push it overboard. On shore you cover it with sand.

Left burning inside an aluminum skinned aircraft they will melt right through the bottom and ignite anything else flammable around them. Fuel, wiring, people. Whatever.

A magnesium fire can sometimes be extinguished by specialized fire extinguishers that react with the burning metal. You can't use water, that will just explode.

The light from a burning magnesium flare is many times brighter than the sun. Just looking at it for more than a few seconds can cause blindness.

While useful, they are extremely dangerous.

So what kind of person hugs a smoking, about-to-ignite illumination flare to his chest?

Sergeant John L. Levitow, USAF

His Medal of Honor citation gives the details:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Levitow (then A1c.), U.S. Air Force, distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while assigned as a loadmaster aboard an AC-47 aircraft flying a night mission in support of Long Binh Army post. Sgt. Levitow's aircraft was struck by a hostile mortar round. The resulting explosion ripped a hole 2 feet in diameter through the wing and fragments made over 3,500 holes in the fuselage. All occupants of the cargo compartment were wounded and helplessly slammed against the floor and fuselage. The explosion tore an activated flare from the grasp of a crewmember who had been launching flares to provide illumination for Army ground troops engaged in combat. Sgt. Levitow, though stunned by the concussion of the blast and suffering from over 40 fragment wounds in the back and legs, staggered to his feet and turned to assist the man nearest to him who had been knocked down and was bleeding heavily. As he was moving his wounded comrade forward and away from the opened cargo compartment door, he saw the smoking flare ahead of him in the aisle. Realizing the danger involved and completely disregarding his own wounds, Sgt. Levitow started toward the burning flare. The aircraft was partially out of control and the flare was rolling wildly from side to side. Sgt. Levitow struggled forward despite the loss of blood from his many wounds and the partial loss of feeling in his right leg. Unable to grasp the rolling flare with his hands, he threw himself bodily upon the burning flare. Hugging the deadly device to his body, he dragged himself back to the rear of the aircraft and hurled the flare through the open cargo door. At that instant the flare separated and ignited in the air, but clear of the aircraft. Sgt. Levitow, by his selfless and heroic actions, saved the aircraft and its entire crew from certain death and destruction. Sgt. Levitow's gallantry, his profound concern for his fellowmen, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

A hero, that's what kind.


Gallery of Heros: Bullets cost money

Posted by Knitebane

Taking on a machinegun nest with a bayonet takes guts.

Doing it twice takes a hero.

Sergeant Louis Cukela, USMC

His Medal of Honor citations (yes, that's plural) read as so:

FIRST AWARD: When his company, advancing through a wood, met with strong resistance from an enemy strong point, Sgt. Cukela crawled out from the flank and made his way toward the German lines in the face of heavy fire, disregarding the warnings of his comrades. He succeeded in getting behind the enemy position and rushed a machinegun emplacement, killing or driving off the crew with his bayonet. With German handgrenades he then bombed out the remaining portion of the strong point, capturing 4 men and 2 damaged machineguns.

SECOND AWARD: For extraordinary heroism while serving with the 66th Company, 5th Regiment, during action in the Forest de Retz, near Viller-Cottertes, France, 18 July 1918. Sgt. Cukela advanced alone against an enemy strong point that was holding up his line. Disregarding the warnings of his comrades, he crawled out from the flank in the face of heavy fire and worked his way to the rear of the enemy position. Rushing a machinegun emplacement, he killed or drove off the crew with his bayonet, bombed out the remaining part of the strong point with German handgrenades and captured 2 machineguns and 4 men.


Gallery of Heroes: Take her down.

Posted by Knitebane

A hundred miles from land, crippled by machine gun fire. You order your men below, dog the hatch behind them, order "Take her down" and slide into a watery grave.

Is that what you meant when you called someone a hero? No? Then find another word.

Commander Howard Walter Gilmore, USN.

His Medal of Honor citation reads:

For distinguished gallantry and valor above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Growler during her Fourth War Patrol in the Southwest Pacific from 10 January to 7 February 1943. Boldly striking at the enemy in spite of continuous hostile air and antisubmarine patrols, Comdr. Gilmore sank one Japanese freighter and damaged another by torpedo fire, successfully evading severe depth charges following each attack. In the darkness of night on 7 February, an enemy gunboat closed range and prepared to ram the Growler. Comdr. Gilmore daringly maneuvered to avoid the crash and rammed the attacker instead, ripping into her port side at 11 knots and bursting wide her plates. In the terrific fire of the sinking gunboat's heavy machineguns, Comdr. Gilmore calmly gave the order to clear the bridge, and refusing safety for himself, remained on deck while his men preceded him below. Struck down by the fusillade of bullets and having done his utmost against the enemy, in his final living moments, Comdr. Gilmore gave his last order to the officer of the deck, "Take her down." The Growler dived; seriously damaged but under control, she was brought safely to port by her well-trained crew inspired by the courageous fighting spirit of their dead captain.


Not the glittering weapon fights the fight, but rather the hero’s heart. Gallery of Heroes: The Beginning

Posted by Knitebane

Lately I'm seeing something that bothers me.

The word "hero" gets tossed about rather carelessly these days. I hear it applied to cops, teachers and soldiers. The other day I heard it applied to 911 operators.

Let's get something straight. You don't get to be a hero by belonging to a group. No one is born a hero. Dying doesn't make you a hero. Suffering doesn't make you a hero. Nor does being wounded. Or being captured or imprisoned or tortured by the enemy.

A hero is someone that who regardless of almost certain death or grievous harm to himself intentionally and consciously makes the decision to do something so that others may be spared.

Getting up and putting on a uniform doesn't count toward that. Just because you are at risk of harm doesn't make you a hero. Hell, getting out of bed at all is a risk. To call someone a hero for just doing their job cheapens the word until it is almost meaningless.

There's nothing shameful in not being a hero. There is value in hard work, difficult work and especially in thankless work. All of those are deserving of praise.

But heroism is something else.

Starting today I'm going to post profiles of people who have earned the label. I'll post these pretty much weekly, more when an opportunity arises to showcase someone especially deserving.

This first entry would be 94 years old this Saturday, April 28th 2012. Instead he coughed out his life near Munda on the island of New Georgia in the south Pacific. And he died a hero.

Roger Wilson Young had suffered a head injury while playing basketball that permanently damaged his vision and hearing. Believing that his physical ailments would preclude him from service with the U.S. Army, Young joined the Ohio National Guard in 1938.

During his service his eyesight and hearing gradually worsened. When his unit was activated in 1940 as the fears of war in Europe worsened Young volunteered as a small arms instructor, a role that would earn him promotions to corporal and then sergeant.

But just before his unit was to land on New Georgia, Young decided his impaired senses would interfere with his ability to lead men into combat. He asked for a reduction to private. His request was met with concern that he was malingering and he was sent for physical evaluation. The medical report indicated that he was nearly completely deaf and it was recommended that he be sent to a hospital for evaluation for his fitness for duty. Young begged to remain with his unit and eventually his request was approved.

A week later, on July 31, 1943, Roger W. Young died in combat. He was short, had poor eyesight and was nearly deaf. Pictures of him show him as a cheerful if unremarkable fellow.

An unlikely hero. But a hero just the same.

The citation on Sergeant Roger W. Young's Medal of Honor reads as follows:

On 31 July 1943, the infantry company of which Pvt. Young was a member, was ordered to make a limited withdrawal from the battle line in order to adjust the battalion's position for the night. At this time, Pvt. Young's platoon was engaged with the enemy in a dense jungle where observation was very limited. The platoon suddenly was pinned down by intense fire from a Japanese machinegun concealed on higher ground only 75 yards away. The initial burst wounded Pvt. Young. As the platoon started to obey the order to withdraw, Pvt. Young called out that he could see the enemy emplacement, whereupon he started creeping toward it. Another burst from the machinegun wounded him the second time. Despite the wounds, he continued his heroic advance, attracting enemy fire and answering with rifle fire. When he was close enough to his objective, he began throwing handgrenades, and while doing so was hit again and killed. Pvt. Young's bold action in closing with this Japanese pillbox and thus diverting its fire, permitted his platoon to disengage itself, without loss, and was responsible for several enemy casualties.

The awarding of the Medal of Honor was, of course, posthumous. Sergeant Young was buried on New Georgia and in 1949 his remains were returned to the United States and buried in McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio.

Sergeant Roger W. Young was the subject of a ballad of some popularity in the late 1940's and Robert A. Heinlein named the transport ship TCFT Roger Young after him in his novel "Starship Troopers".

He was a hero. Before you apply that word to someone, think about what Roger Young did. Consider if the person you are talking about comes anywhere close to the kind of courage and willingness to sacrifice that Sergeant Young displayed.

Then find another word. This one's taken.