Ships are commanded by Captains, naval divisions by Rear Admirals. The U.S.S. Arizona was the flagship of Battleship Division One of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on Deceber 7th, 1941. There were six men who performed extraordinary feats that day and earned the Medal of Honor. Three of them were on the same ship.
When aircraft of the Kido Butai of the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the ships anchored off of Battleship Row the captain of the Arizona, CAPT Franklin Van Valkenburgh, and the Commander of Battleship Division One, RADM Isaac C. Kidd, rushed from their quarters to their posts and began the defense of the ship. LCDR Samuel Fuqua, the ship's damage control officer, took charge of his duties as well. At 08:06 in the vicinity of Turret II an armor-piercing bomb hit, likely penetrating the armored deck near the ammunition magazines located in the forward section of the ship. About seven seconds after the hit, the forward magazines detonated in a cataclysmic explosion. Both RADM Kidd and CAPT Van Valkenburgh died in the blast. LCDR Fuqua continued to perform his duties and coolly directed damage control efforts until it was obvious the Arizona could not be saved. As he was her senior surviving officer and was responsible for saving her remaining crewmen, he then directed an orderly evacuation of the ship.
The bodies of RADM Kidd and CAPT Valkenburgh were never recovered. LCDR Fuqua survived the attack and retired from active duty in July 1953, receiving at that time the rank of Rear Admiral.
Their Medal of Honor citations state the following:
For RADM Kidd:
For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Rear Adm. Kidd immediately went to the bridge and, as Commander Battleship Division One, courageously discharged his duties as Senior Officer Present Afloat until the U.S.S. Arizona, his Flagship, blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge which resulted in the loss of his life.
For CAPT Van Valkenburgh:
For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor T.H., by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. As commanding officer of the U.S.S. Arizona, Capt. Van Valkenburgh gallantly fought his ship until the U.S.S. Arizona blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge which resulted in the loss of his life.
For LCDR Fuqua:
For distinguished conduct in action, outstanding heroism, and utter disregard of his own safety above and beyond the call of duty during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Upon the commencement of the attack, Lt. Comdr. Fuqua rushed to the quarterdeck of the U.S.S. Arizona to which he was attached where he was stunned and knocked down by the explosion of a large bomb which hit the guarterdeck, penetrated several decks, and started a severe fire. Upon regaining consciousness, he began to direct the fighting of the fire and the rescue of wounded and injured personnel. Almost immediately there was a tremendous explosion forward, which made the ship appear to rise out of the water, shudder, and settle down by the bow rapidly. The whole forward part of the ship was enveloped in flames which were spreading rapidly, and wounded and burned men were pouring out of the ship to the quarterdeck. Despite these conditions, his harrowing experience, and severe enemy bombing and strafing, at the time, Lt. Comdr. Fuqua continued to direct the fighting of fires in order to check them while the wounded and burned could be taken from the ship and supervised the rescue of these men in such an amazingly calm and cool manner and with such excellent judgment that it inspired everyone who saw him and undoubtedly resulted in the saving of many lives. After realizing the ship could not be saved and that he was the senior surviving officer aboard, he directed it to be abandoned, but continued to remain on the quarterdeck and directed abandoning ship and rescue of personnel until satisfied that all personnel that could be had been saved, after which he left his ship with the boatload. The conduct of Lt. Comdr. Fuqua was not only in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service but characterizes him as an outstanding leader of men.
Gallery of Heroes: Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you only spend it once.
He was born September 24, 1969 in El Paso, Texas. He attended public schools and enjoyed sports especially football. He also liked riding skateboards and bicycles, playing pranks with his friends and younger sister. In high school he became interested in carpentry, even finding a part time job as a carpenters assistant. He also liked to work on cars, especially old ones and enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked, even restoring a dune buggy with a friend. In 1989 he graduated from Tampa Bay Vocational Tech High School and shortly after joined the United States Army in October 1989.
He was sent to Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri before being sent to Germany for his first duty station, where he joined the 9th Engineer Battalion. Later, he served during the Persian Gulf War. He deployed with B company in October 1996 as part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the covering force for Operation Joint Endeavor and Operation Joint Guardian; the battalion returned to Schweinfurt in April 1997. In 1999 he was posted to the 11th Engineer Battalion and deployed with them to Kosovo in May 2001, where he was responsible for daily presence patrols in the town of Gnjilane. In the spring of 2002, he received a promotion to Sergeant First Class and completed the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course in August 2002.
As part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he was assigned to B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division. His company was supporting the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment as it made its way through the Karbala Gap, across the Euphrates River and to Saddam International Airport (BIAP) in Baghdad. On April 4, 2003, a 100-man force was assigned to block the highway between Baghdad and the airport, about one mile east of the airport. After a brief battle, several of the Iraqis were captured. He spotted a walled enclosure nearby with a tower overlooking it. He and his squad set about building an impromptu enemy prisoner of war (EPW) holding area in the enclosure. He and 16 other men used an Armored Combat Earthmover (similar to a bulldozer) to knock a hole in the south wall of the courtyard. On the north side, there was a metal gate that he assigned several men to guard. These men noticed 50–100 Iraqi fighters who had taken positions in trenches just past the gate. He summoned a Bradley fighting vehicle to attack their position. Three nearby M113 Armored Personnel Carriers came to support the attack. An M113 was hit, possibly by a mortar, and all three crewmen were wounded. The Bradley, damaged and running low on ammunition, withdrew to reload during a lull in the battle. He organized the evacuation of the injured M113 crewmen. However, behind the courtyard was a military aid station crowded with 100 combat casualties. To protect it from being overrun, he chose to fight on rather than withdraw with the wounded.
Meanwhile, some Iraqi fighters had taken position in the tower overlooking the courtyard, just over the west wall. The Iraqis now had the Americans in the courtyard under an intense crossfire. He took command of the M113 and ordered a driver to position it so that he could attack both the tower and the trenches. He manned the M113's machine gun, going through three boxes of ammunition. A separate team led by First Sergeant Tim Campbell attacked the tower from the rear, killing the Iraqis. As the battle ended, his machine gun fell silent. His comrades found him slumped in the turret hatch. His armored vest was peppered with 13 bullet holes, the vest's ceramic armor inserts, both front and back, cracked in numerous places. But the fatal shot, one of the last from the tower, had entered his neck and passed through his brain, killing him.
The Medal of Honor citation for Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith's extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division "Rock of the Marne," and the United States Army.
Before deploying to Iraq Smith had written to his parents, "There are two ways to come home, stepping off the plane and being carried off the plane. It doesn't matter how I come home, because I am prepared to give all that I am to ensure that all my boys make it home." Smith is buried in Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Virginia and his grave can be found in memorial Section D, lot 67.
Sergeant First Class Smith spent his life well. So do all heroes.
Alvin Cullum York was born in a two-room log cabin near Pall Mall, Tennessee, on December 13, 1887, the third of eleven children. In his early adult life he had a history of violent behavior while drunk and several arrests. A revival meeting at the end of 1914 led him to a conversion experience on January 1, 1915. His new faith turned him from drink and instilled in him a non-violent creed. As such, when he received his draft notice for World War I, he initially tried to claim conscientious objector status.
Deeply troubled by the conflict between his pacifism and his training for war, he spoke at length with his company commander, Captain Edward Danforth and his battalion commander, Major Gonzalo Buxton, a devout Christian himself. Citing Biblical passages about violence, they forced York to reconsider the morality of his participation in the war. Granted a 10-day leave to visit home, he returned convinced that God meant for him to fight and would keep him safe, as committed to his new mission as he had been to pacifism.
During an attack by his battalion to secure German positions along the Decauville rail-line north of Chatel-Chéhéry, France, on October 8, 1918, York noted in his diary:
The Germans got us, and they got us right smart. They just stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we couldn’t tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from... And I'm telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out... And there we were, lying down, about halfway across [the valley] and those German machine guns and big shells getting us hard.
Under the command of Sergeant Bernard Early, four non-commissioned officers, including recently promoted Cpl. York, and thirteen privates were ordered to infiltrate behind the German lines to take out the machine guns. The group worked their way behind the Germans and overran the headquarters of a German unit, capturing a large group of German soldiers who were preparing a counter-attack against the U.S. troops. Early's men were contending with the prisoners when machine gun fire suddenly peppered the area, killing six of his fellow soldiers and wounding three others including Sergeant Early.
The fire came from German machine guns on the ridge. The loss of the nine put Corporal York in charge of the seven remaining U.S. soldiers. As his men remained under cover, guarding the prisoners, York worked his way into position to silence the German machine guns. He noted:
And those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful. And the Germans were yelling orders. You never heard such a racket in all of your life. I didn't have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush... As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting... All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn't want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.
During the assault, six German soldiers in a trench near York charged him with fixed bayonets. York had fired all the rounds in his M1917 Enfield rifle, but drew his .45 Colt automatic pistol and shot all six soldiers before they could reach him. The commander of the First Battalion, 120th Landwehr Infantry, emptied his pistol trying to kill York while he was contending with the machine guns. Failing to injure York, and seeing his mounting losses, he offered in English to surrender the unit to York, who accepted.
By the end of the engagement, York and his seven men marched 132 German prisoners back to the American lines.
His actions silenced the German machine guns and were responsible for enabling the 328th Infantry to renew its attack to capture the Decauville Railroad.
York was promptly promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism.
A few months later, following a thorough investigation, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented to York by the commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing. The French Republic awarded him the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor. Italy awarded him its Croce di Guerra and Montenegro its War Medal. He eventually received nearly 50 decorations. His Medal of Honor citation reads:
After his platoon had suffered heavy casualties and 3 other noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading 7 men, he charged with great daring a machinegun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machinegun nest was taken, together with 4 officers and 128 men and several guns.
During World War II, York attempted to re-enlist in the Army, however at fifty-four years of age, overweight, near-diabetic, and with evidence of arthritis, he was denied. Instead he was given the honorary rank of Colonel in the Army Signal Corps and he toured training camps and participated in bond drives in support of the war effort. He also raised funds for war-related charities, including the Red Cross. He served on his county draft board, and when literacy requirements forced the rejection of large numbers of Fentress County men, he offered to lead a battalion of illiterates himself.
Although York served during the war with the honorary rank of Colonel in the Army Signal Corps and as a Colonel with the Seventh Infantry of the Tennessee State Guard, newspapers continued to refer to him as "Sgt. York."
Ed Freeman started his military career in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II on the USS Cacapon (AO-52).
After the war he went home and graduated from high school.
After high school he enlisted in the U.S. Army. By the time the Korean conflict broke out Freeman had earned the rank of First Sergeant. Although he was in the Corps of Engineers, he fought as an infantry soldier in Korea. He participated in theBattle of Pork Chop Hill and earned a battlefield commission as one of only 14 survivors out of 257 men who made it through the opening stages of the battle.
After his 2nd Lieutenant bars were pinned on he took command of a company and returned to Pork Chop Hill.
At the end of active combat in the Korean conflict Freeman took the opportunity that his commission provided him and applied for flight school. His height (6 feet, 4 inches) made him ineligible for flight duty. He was told he was "Too Tall." That would stick as his nickname for the rest of his life.
In 1955, the height limit for pilots was raised and Freeman was accepted into flying school. He first flew fixed-wing Army airplanes before switching to helicopters. By the time of the Vietnam conflict he was an experienced helicopter pilot and was placed second-in-command of his sixteen-craft unit. He served as a captain in Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
On November 14, 1965, Freeman and his unit transported a battalion of American soldiers to the Ia Drang Valley. Later, after arriving back at base, they learned that the soldiers had come under intense fire and had taken heavy casualties. Enemy fire around the landing zones was so heavy that the landing zone was closed to medical evacuation helicopters. Freeman and his commander, Major Bruce Crandall, volunteered to fly their unarmed, lightly armored UH-1 Huey in support of the embattled troops. Freeman made a total of fourteen trips to the battlefield, bringing in water and ammunition and taking out wounded soldiers under heavy enemy fire in what was later named the Battle of Ia Drang. By the time they landed their heavily damaged Huey, Captain Freeman had been wounded four times by ground fire.
Maybe you saw the movie. In We Were Soldiers Freeman was played by Mark McCracken.
Flying toward the battle takes a soldier. Going there unarmed takes courage.
Returning fourteen times takes a hero.
His Medal of Honor citation reads:
Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army, distinguished himself by numerous acts of conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary intrepidity on 14 November 1965 while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). As a flight leader and second in command of a 16-helicopter lift unit, he supported a heavily engaged American infantry battalion at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam. The unit was almost out of ammunition after taking some of the heaviest casualties of the war, fighting off a relentless attack from a highly motivated, heavily armed enemy force. When the infantry commander closed the helicopter landing zone due to intense direct enemy fire, Captain Freeman risked his own life by flying his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire time after time, delivering critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies to the besieged battalion. His flights had a direct impact on the battle's outcome by providing the engaged units with timely supplies of ammunition critical to their survival, without which they would almost surely have gone down, with much greater loss of life. After medical evacuation helicopters refused to fly into the area due to intense enemy fire, Captain Freeman flew 14 separate rescue missions, providing life-saving evacuation of an estimated 30 seriously wounded soldiers -- some of whom would not have survived had he not acted. All flights were made into a small emergency landing zone within 100 to 200 meters of the defensive perimeter where heavily committed units were perilously holding off the attacking elements. Captain Freeman's selfless acts of great valor, extraordinary perseverance and intrepidity were far above and beyond the call of duty or mission and set a superb example of leadership and courage for all of his peers. Captain Freeman's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.
"Too Tall" Freeman died on August 20, 2008 due to complications from Parkinson's disease. He was buried with full military honors at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in Boise, ID.
An appropriate entry for the 68th Anniversary of D-Day, I think.
Carlton W. Barrett joined the United States Army from Albany, New York in October 1940. He was a member of, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Barrett was one of four Medal of Honor recipients on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
His Medal of Honor citation reads:
For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in the vicinity of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France. On the morning of D-day Pvt. Barrett, landing in the face of extremely heavy enemy fire, was forced to wade ashore through neck-deep water. Disregarding the personal danger, he returned to the surf again and again to assist his floundering comrades and save them from drowning. Refusing to remain pinned down by the intense barrage of small-arms and mortar fire poured at the landing points, Pvt. Barrett, working with fierce determination, saved many lives by carrying casualties to an evacuation boat Iying offshore. In addition to his assigned mission as guide, he carried dispatches the length of the fire-swept beach; he assisted the wounded; he calmed the shocked; he arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion. His coolness and his dauntless daring courage while constantly risking his life during a period of many hours had an inestimable effect on his comrades and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.
Private Barrett survived the war and died on May 3, 1986. He is buried at Chapel of the Chimes Cemetery in Napa, California.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.