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The Last Full Measure of Devotion
May 28, 2012 2:15 PM   Subscribe

"The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed by the President in the name of Congress, and is conferred only upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through 'conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.'" The U.S. Army Center of Military History lists every citation for a Medal of Honor award since they were first issued. Most are awarded posthumously, to those who "gave the last full measure of devotion", as Lincoln called it. It's Memorial Day in the U.S., and reflecting upon these is perhaps a reasonable way to spend a bit of it.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, A-L, Vietnam, M-Z. A few to start with.
posted by disillusioned (59 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
A famous, two times (!) recipient of the Medal of Honor, Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, author of the book War is a Racket.
posted by elpapacito at 2:38 PM on May 28, 2012 [13 favorites]


This is a tough subject for me since a lot of these guys died either saving their buddies or in otherwise heroic fashion, a lot of them during legitimate and justified military action. But I'm also with Butler on the nature of much military adventurism (American included) and I don't think one can really separate the cause a soldier is fighting for from the bravery of the soldier himself. So ambivalence abounds.
posted by Justinian at 2:54 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


We should remember that they fought and died to save us from our utter failure as a society to resolve problems without armed conflict. I think the best way to honor them is to acknowledge the shame we bear for descending into violence and resolve to find better ways to conduct ourselves as a nation in the future.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:01 PM on May 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


I enjoyed a movie about Corporal York yesterday.

YORK, ALVIN C.

Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Company G, 328th Infantry, 82d Division. Place and date: Near Chatel-Chehery, France, 8 October 1918. Entered service at: Pall Mall, Tenn. Born: 13 December 1887, Fentress County, Tenn. G.O. No.: 59, W.D., 1919. Citation: 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.
posted by notmtwain at 3:06 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's an hour long Master of Horror episode called Homecoming that has a pretty good moral for this day as well
posted by Redhush at 3:15 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


This one is surprising:

MacARTHUR, DOUGLAS

Rank and organization: General, U.S. Army, commanding U.S. Army Forces in the Far East. Place and date: Bataan Peninsula, Philippine Islands. Entered service at: Ashland, Wis. Birth: Little Rock, Ark. G.O. No.: 16, 1 April 1942. Citation: For conspicuous leadership in preparing the Philippine Islands to resist conquest, for gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against invading Japanese forces, and for the heroic conduct of defensive and offensive operations on the Bataan Peninsula. He mobilized, trained, and led an army which has received world acclaim for its gallant defense against a tremendous superiority of enemy forces in men and arms. His utter disregard of personal danger under heavy fire and aerial bombardment, his calm judgment in each crisis, inspired his troops, galvanized the spirit of resistance of the Filipino people, and confirmed the faith of the American people in their Armed Forces.
posted by thelonius at 3:30 PM on May 28, 2012


Its difficult for me to see military decorations as anything other than colorful bits of prestige that we fling at servicepeople to make the relatively-low-paying, high-risk jobs that they do worthwhile.
Military personnel are asked to forego their basic human decency and murder in the name of the state and to put their own lives on the line to satisfy objectives that often aren't in the interest of preserving the Constitution and spreading "democracy". Its difficult to remunerate a person for something like that. And so we conspire as a society to heap awards and honors and special status upon them, just in case the lower classes ever get wise to what Major General Butler rightly deemed the "racket" of war.
Memorial Day should be respected, and we should spend some time reflecting on the tragic and unnecessary costs of military adventurism, but I think its harmful to get overly sentimental about the "sacrifices" made by Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Coast Guard(ers?). The more we lionize and beatify servicepeople as paragons of virtue, the more we glamorize and exalt War itself- and the more people will die because they buy wholesale into this idea that war is a necessary and even ennobling evil.
And yes, I am a veteran of a foreign war, if that makes my case more valid to someone (and I hardly think it should).
posted by Alonzo T. Calm at 3:33 PM on May 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


thelonius: "MacARTHUR, DOUGLAS"

thelonius: "This one is surprising:

MacARTHUR, DOUGLAS
"



Are you surprised that the man won a medal of honor or for the reason given?
posted by 2manyusernames at 3:37 PM on May 28, 2012


The reason. I thought they gave these for specific feats of combat, not for command of a theater, however well done.
posted by thelonius at 3:42 PM on May 28, 2012


Alonzo T. Calm: "The more we lionize and beatify servicepeople as paragons of virtue, the more we glamorize and exalt War itself- and the more people will die because they buy wholesale into this idea that war is a necessary and even ennobling evil. "

The incredible disrespect and disdain you display aside, the idea that war is not necessary is rather silly and naive. People being people, wars are inevitable. You might as well as besmirch the work and sacrifices a police officer does and declare that they are unnecessary as well.

And yes we are talking about real sacrifices so no need to put the word in quotations to further belittle the men and women who have fought, including yourself.
posted by 2manyusernames at 3:45 PM on May 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


War Is a Racket is the title of two works, a speech and a booklet, by retired United States Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler. In them, Butler frankly discusses from his experience as a career military officer how business interests commercially benefit from warfare.

Why do hate America Halliburton?
posted by neuron at 3:47 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The reason. I thought they gave these for specific feats of combat, not for command of a theater, however well done.

With the caveat that I don't know how close MacArthur got to actual fighting & danger, the sad truth is that even the CMH has occasionally been subject to politics. The further back you go, the more that holds. (I'll state that MacArthur had to have maintained some serious inner steel to have stuck things out the way he did during the defense... but A) plenty would say that was more about ego, and B) I still wouldn't think that the CMH would be the appropriate way to recognize it.)

A second truth is that an awful lot of guys never got recognized for the astoundingly brave and selfless things they did in combat because their chain of command was so busy they never got around to writing the citations. To cite a case that many will recognize, there were relatively few awards of the Bronze or above for the men of the 101st's Easy Company (the guys in Band of Brothers). This later impacted them severely when it came time to rotate home, as receiving certain high awards for valor gave you better odds of going home sooner than others.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:49 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Its difficult for me to see military decorations as anything other than colorful bits of prestige that we fling at servicepeople to make the relatively-low-paying, high-risk jobs that they do worthwhile.

We can nitpick about the politics of high-profile guys like MacArthur getting it, but for the vast majority this is about people who did the absolute right things on one of the absolute worst days of their lives. I have yet to ever even hear of anyone thumping their chest about how awesome they are about their CMH/DSC/Silver/whatever-star. Generally speaking the people who get these have more to say about the friends they lost.

As an ex-Coastie myself, I can tell you that the medals I got in no way made the job worthwhile, nor would knowing I'd have gotten one have changed anything I did--but the simple fact is that it's nice to have your efforts recognized and appreciated by others.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:55 PM on May 28, 2012


And yes we are talking about real sacrifices so no need to put the word in quotations to further belittle the men and women who have fought, including yourself.

Oh get off your horse. I put that in quotations because its absurd to suggest that a vast majority of the people who have lost their lives in the course of an armed conflict would, when put to a choice, decide to forfeit their lives in order to further some nebulous ideology or goal or objective that isn't really clear to them anyways. And also to suggest that service in the military is a "sacrifice" in itself, even when the threat of death isn't imminent. People join the military because they want to find a career path, get money for college, find a niche in society, or because they are rampant sociopaths who want a legitimate venue for killing people. Not because they are high-minded idealists who just want to shield the precious Constitution from harm, even if it costs them their lives.
But yes, I'm the naive one for suggesting that most of the conflicts we have been involved in could have been avoided entirely. That war isn't always the inevitable outcome of any international dispute. And I suppose its naive to still maintain that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were anything other than absolutely necessary, right?
posted by Alonzo T. Calm at 3:57 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not because they are high-minded idealists who just want to shield the precious Constitution from harm, even if it costs them their lives.

I was. But thanks for coming by to belittle my service and that of my fellow veterans. Wouldn't be a Memorial Day until someone had taken the time to do that.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:59 PM on May 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Then you know very well you were in the minority, if you served with the same sorts of people I did.
posted by Alonzo T. Calm at 4:01 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


A high percentage of the citations from the Vietnam conflict, for example, describe soldiers who threw themselves on grenades to save the lives of those around them. My guess is that, in that moment, they weren't concerned with private financial interests, macroeconomics, geopolitics, or the Unites States' role as global police force. They were just trying to help the person next to them.

In this thread, let's try to emulate them in that.
posted by outlaw of averages at 4:15 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I think the best way to honor them is to acknowledge the shame we bear."

Yeah. Not sure who the "we" is here. Please don't count me as one of them.
posted by timsteil at 4:18 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thank you, Mefite veterans, for your service, whatever your opinions on these matters.
posted by spitbull at 4:19 PM on May 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


Alonzo,
I thought very seriously about the words in the oath I took. I understood them. I'm not remotely the only one who did. The fact that there was a salary, college benefits and all the rest certainly mattered, but to claim that any of that somehow diminishes the sacrifices of others (hell, I'm not even claiming to have made harsh sacrifices in my own case) is incredibly petty.

I didn't serve under the administration of GWB, but there are so many thousands who did, and no, they weren't the shameless, thoughtless mercenary jackasses you apparently want to believe them to be. They were Americans, and there was good and bad in all of them.

The fact is that Outlaw there is right; most of the people who were awarded the CMH were probably thinking about getting their buddies out alive in a shitty situation, and nothing more. Many were drafted. None of that means they are somehow less worthy of recognition.

You're sitting here telling others to get off their high horses, but you're the only one I see here who's on one.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:26 PM on May 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


[Folks, if you're not trolling, make it look more like you're not trolling please. Everyone's entitled to their opinions, but please make sure you are actually having some sort of a conversation.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:26 PM on May 28, 2012


Not because they are high-minded idealists who just want to shield the precious Constitution from harm, even if it costs them their lives.

i wasn't able to join for other reasons but this is why i tried.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 4:28 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


not all of our servicemen were officially recognized. i came across this story a while ago.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 4:33 PM on May 28, 2012


Wife of a Coastie who just spent the vacation weekend alone because my husband is out doing his job making sure everyone else has a great holiday weekend here.

I knew pretty much nothing about the military when I met my husband, and less than nothing about the Coast Guard. (Before our first date my impression of the Coast Guard was pretty much entirely formed from the movie The Perfect Storm. (; ) I don't remember how long we'd been dating when he first told me about the only Coastie who's won the Medal of Honor - Douglas Albert Munro. He received the medal for heroism at Guadalcanal, saving the lives of some of the Marines.

You can read about his story here; Cle Elum has several photos and letters from him scanned online.

Anyway, to any other mefites who were also alone this holiday weekend because your S.O. is active duty & away from home -hope you had a great vacation weekend as well.
posted by lyra4 at 4:36 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I think the best way to honor them is to acknowledge the shame we bear."

Yeah. Not sure who the "we" is here. Please don't count me as one of them.


Since we're talking about the US CMH, I'm referring to anyone who participated in American society during an armed conflict in which the United States was a belligerent.

If you're offended because you aren't American, I wasn't referring to you. If you're offended because you think we should be proud of the fact that we could not find another way to solve our problems other than through acts of violence, then we probably aren't going to see eye-to-eye on this.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:49 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Democracy Now: U.S. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Return War Medals at NATO Summit
posted by homunculus at 4:50 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think one can really separate the cause a soldier is fighting for from the bravery of the soldier himself.

I don't see how the two are connected. Many extremely courageous men have fought for terrible causes. Read about some of the winners of the Iron Cross. There's no shortage of examples.
posted by BigSky at 4:59 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I always think of Desmond Doss this time of year.

But thank you to everyone who has served and continues to do so. All in the all if the world needs a best army I'd rather it belonged to us.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:00 PM on May 28, 2012


I don't see how the two are connected. Many extremely courageous men have fought for terrible causes. Read about some of the winners of the Iron Cross. There's no shortage of examples.

But that's what I mean. I don't think one should celebrate courage for bad causes and while not every instance of military action is for a bad cause, some certainly are and I am ambivalent about being asked to honor those actions as well as the good ones.
posted by Justinian at 5:05 PM on May 28, 2012


I am ambivalent about being asked to honor those actions as well as the good ones.

Has anyone asked you to do that here? I might've missed it.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 5:08 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think one should celebrate courage for bad causes and while not every instance of military action is for a bad cause, some certainly are and I am ambivalent about being asked to honor those actions as well as the good ones.

I see your point, didn't recognize you were talking about honoring the act. I thought you were making a claim that the question of whether or not it was courageous depended on the cause.
posted by BigSky at 5:10 PM on May 28, 2012


To my fellow vets both here and gone, thank you.
posted by HuronBob at 5:14 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


the idea that war is not necessary is rather silly and naive.

i guess we could stand a little more silliness and naivete in this world, then

who knows? - there may be a time where people will be horrified by the notion that some thought war was necessary - just as we're horrified by the notion now that some thought slavery was necessary

but i probably won't live to see that day
posted by pyramid termite at 5:19 PM on May 28, 2012


Anyway. A few years ago I researched and wrote a paper about a Medal of Honor winner in WWI, Charles W. Whittlesey.
posted by beagle at 5:36 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Buffy Saint-Marie weighs in ...
posted by philip-random at 5:50 PM on May 28, 2012


Then you know very well you were in the minority, if you served with the same sorts of people I did.

I did. I believe in the Republic and everything that it stands for and hopes to stand for. "To well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I'm about to enter . . . " I took that seriously and solemnly. And yes, like all things, we look at the whole picture, and we look for things we fit into, for which we can make a living doing, and for which we can find a path to the future. But that doesn't diminish the act, especially when it call comes down to a moment when none of that matters and you lay down your life like these men and women have done. I served with some scoundrels, true, but I served with some brave, idealistic, grand comrades which humble me to know. Even the scoundrels possessed those grains of idealism that mitigated their own selfish desires. Even they could find sacrifice and service in the odd moment, even if that's not why they came nor what they looked for. Even they.

Now I find myself a school teacher for many reasons, but I miss a lot of it. I miss code, that shared history, that shared suffering, a continuity. I serve in another profession that sees itself serving others and that is filled with scoundrels. But would you say that we're just there because we need a job, because we like lording over kids, because we're lazy and want to take the summers off? Must the entire field of Education be sullied by your imagined slights?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:03 PM on May 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Just a related link for anyone interested...
Awards and decorations of the United States military by order of precedence.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:06 PM on May 28, 2012


MUNEMORI, SADAO S.

Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company A,

100th Infantry Battalion, 442d Combat Team. Place and date: Near Seravezza, Italy, 5 April 1945. Entered service at: Los Angeles, Calif Birth: Los Angeles, Calif. G.O. No.. 24, 7 March 1946. Citation: He fought with great gallantry and intrepidity near Seravezza, Italy. When his unit was pinned down by grazing fire from the enemy's strong mountain defense and command of the squad devolved on him with the wounding of its regular leader, he made frontal, l-man attacks through direct fire and knocked out 2 machineguns with grenades Withdrawing under murderous fire and showers of grenades from other enemy emplacements, he had nearly reached a shell crater occupied by 2 of his men when an unexploded grenade bounced on his helmet and rolled toward his helpless comrades. He arose into the withering fire, dived for the missile and smothered its blast with his body. By his swift, supremely heroic action Pfc. Munemori saved 2 of his men at the cost of his own life and did much to clear the path for his company's victorious advance.
At the time of his death, much of Munemori's family was still interned at Manzanar. The citation immediately above his, for Sergeant Joseph E. Muller, refers to Muller charging "the Japs." For more than half a century, Munemori was the only Japanese-American recipient of the Medal of Honor from World War II.

Anyone else care to say there are no high-minded persons in service to their country?
posted by Etrigan at 6:12 PM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Has anyone asked you to do that here?

You mean in this thread? Naw. But it is what "Memorial Day" is for in the United States. Honoring the service of all members of our armed forces throughout history. I don't see any asterisks there.
posted by Justinian at 6:35 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone else care to say there are no high-minded persons in service to their country?

And if you do, make sure you read my Desmond Doss link above.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:57 PM on May 28, 2012


Just posting to give my thanks to fellow vets and more importantly to those who lost their lives and to the families who lost their loved ones. I like to think of this holiday as honoring the families especially, because they have to live on with their permanent sacrifice and loss.

I'm totally excited about people earning their various patches and insignia...Airborne, Ranger, Special Forces, Diver, Pilot, Search and Rescue etc. Oh, and all the medals and ribbons too. But today isn't about that and it's not about the CMH. It's about lives lost while serving.

Here's a slug of Heineken to the soldier that was cut in half while rigging down M1-A1s in a cargo ship. Here's another slug for my friend's cousin who died last month in Iraq. Another for all of my Dad's Vietnam buddies. (Dad has a PhD in psychology and still suffers from severe survivors guilt.)

One more for the two guys, a Lt. Col. and CSM, who were both shot through their heads by a sniper while souvenir hunting in a hot area a couple of hundred meters where we were supposed to be regrouping.

My thanks to ALL who have given their lives while in service for this country whether in combat or regular duty. They all died while doing their duty.
posted by snsranch at 7:03 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let me just say this OK? I don't want to jump down anyone's throat or be be that drunk veteran asshole (although I kinda am at the moment.)

I'm 51. I got out of the service in 1984, It was a ride friends. I could not believe for myself, nor could I explain to the people I grew up with, what I was doing. It was unfathomable to me, and I had no words to describe it to anyone else.

I went all around the world a couple of times. I was in places I don't even remember much. I just got off the phone with a guy I served with (yeah, we tend to call each other up on this day), and he says he doesn't remember anything but the mission. Not the tearing up the town boozing and whoring, or the hash smoking, or the fugitive we hid, All he remembers is the mission.

I found out about six months ago, that right before I got out of the service, somebody put me in for a medal. It was one of those things where the paperwork was never done by the time I got out, and the guy in charge of keeping track of such stuff, never bothered to follow up.

So I find out now that I earned a medal for invading a foreign country under hostile fire (FWIW, we weren't at war with anyone at the time but it was our job and we did it.). And I also earned, what is essentially The Bronze Star, except it was awarded to our entire team, instead of one individual. I had to call two guys on my team whose numbers I still had to tell them we had won this, And years after the fact, and they were blown away. They passed it along to the others whose numbers they had.

I understand all the viewpoints going on here, and I don't mean to denigrate any of them. I feel you folks. I do.

But for me? I was maybe 20-21. 12,000K miles from the cornfield town I grew up in, doing things that made my asshole pucker up tighter than a nun in a cold church.

To find that out? That I won those awards?

I knew back then what I was doing was both important and untellable. I knew that on my first mission.

I just wish, some of you folks could just take a deep breath, and realize just how important that honor feels to me today.

Especially, this day.
posted by timsteil at 8:32 PM on May 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


Please say more about who you "served" with, Alonzo T. Calm. Because that sounded like an authenticity claim, and I'd like to hear more about the position from which you're making your critique.
posted by vitia at 9:27 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


> because they are rampant sociopaths who want a legitimate venue for killing people.

This is disgusting comment.

I am a liberal fellow and I have always felt the Smedley war racket piece pretty dead on but today is Memorial Day (or Remembrance Day back in the beginning of it) for honoring the war dead. For the most part they were ordinary folks mostly like you and I except they died fighting in wars. That the war was stupid or venal or made up in conspiracy is irrelevant. Wars happen and people die in them. If we are in a peaceful interlude and alive it is tiny potatoes to take a moment and thank them for their sacrifice.

It's kind of like a funeral. Do you act like an asshole at a funeral?
posted by bukvich at 9:31 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


In the service you have heroes, assholes, and plain average Joes (and Janes.)

They lay their lives on the line, and in return we give the ones that don't make it a Memorial Day. Too damn bad we don't give the ones that do come back maimed in body and mind what they deserve: decent access to real health care, retirement and benefits they were promised that are not continually being whittled away, honor and recognition for the hard and ugly job they've done in 'Nam, the Gulf, the Middle East.

All places we never should have been in the first place, except for greedy politicians and monsters like Halliburton.

Our shame is that we don't rise up as a nation and demand that the lives of our service men and women not be wasted in offensive actions that do nothing but enrich the pockets of the wealthy--the same people who would never dream of sending their sons or daughters to do what they ask the sons and daughters of others to do.

There is nothing more noble than to lay down one's life in the defense of one's country. We have double cause to mourn for the fallen--that they have died, and that the reason for their dying was unnecessary.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:11 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I write this as a Cold War veteran who, nonetheless, lost friends in 'the war'.

There's a special kind of heroism that drives men to sacrifice themselves for their unit, or their friends, or their mission in the heat of combat. There's also the quiet kind of heroism that lets you advance up that hillside into a group of soldiers who are doing their level best to kill you and your friends, or to hold your ground in the face of a terrifying artillery barrage. All of those things are legitimately heroism. Most heroism goes unrewarded and unrecognized, because that's the nature of life on this planet. For most, if not all of WWII, soldiers of color were recognized at a far lesser rate than they white counterparts. For every Dorie Miller manning a machine gun in the heat of battle, there were undoubtedly hundreds whose stories we never heard. That's shameful, and a loss to our history.

Back to my point. All the unrecognized heroism that happens leaves an indelible mark on soldiers of whatever stripe and nationality. We don't talk about it with you very much, because it's just not something shared with outsiders. That guy over there in the corner at the VA hospital waiting for a minivan to come pick him up? He lugged 5-inch shells during a running gun battle at sea on a holed, sinking destroyer when the ammunition lift failed. With a broken back. He doesn't have a medal for it, but he has a dignity that nothing can ever erase.

And yes, we do call each other ever after and reminisce. I know that my friend Mike in Atlanta will take my call any day when I see something that tickles my relatively advanced sense of absurdity or outrage, because we shared so many shifts listening to stuff happening in the Soviet Zone of Europe, drinking in the NCO club, wondering what would happen if the balloon went up, knowing we were whistling in the wind because we knew that the Sovs had targeted us with our own personal 1 megaton warhead.

I can call my pal Joey because who else do you call to commiserate with but the guy you got busted with by the Brit MPs for drunk and disorderly, tossing rocks and brickbats over the Berlin Wall, trying to set off the landmines on the other side in no-man's-land? (The MPs took us back to our barracks with an admonition to 'sleep it off, mates')

Cold Warriors lost their lives, as well. If not always by direct 'enemy' action, by plane wrecks in arctic conditions, flying out of remote places like Kamchatka, or Shemya, or even exotic places like Asmara, Ethiopia or Incirlik, Turkey. Submariners were lost at sea, Marines died doing things that people still don't talk about. Even bearing witness to horror casts an awful toll.

So there are gold stars on a wall in At CIA, some tombstones with cryptic inscriptions in Virginia and Pennsylvania and other places. All these people are also included in our memorials, whether overtly or not. I wish that this particular weekend wasn't awash in sporting events where people who have never heard a gun fired in anger can make huge spectacles and patriotic displays as "Memorials". When I think of Memorial day, I cast my memory back to visiting the Russian War Memorial in Treptow Park in Berlin, where there are 5000 Russian soldiers who lost their lives in the final defeat of Nazi Germany buried in mass graves. I think of the German military cemetery in Augsburg, where there are hundreds of German war dead buried.

Here's the thing. We aren't the only people who've lost loved ones to war. This is a universal affliction. So I honor the dead of my 'enemies' as well- they're only enemies because of politics. As soldiers, they were also my brothers and sisters.

Please think about that next memorial day.
posted by pjern at 11:13 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is pretty good reading too:

via wikipedia, Conscientious objector Medal of Honor recipients

I knew Desmond Doss' story, but not the others.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:13 PM on May 28, 2012


I don't see how the two are connected. Many extremely courageous men have fought for terrible causes. Read about some of the winners of the Iron Cross. There's no shortage of examples.

And we should honour their brave sacrifice too, right?
posted by Meatbomb at 11:14 PM on May 28, 2012


Here's a free (yes,legal) copy of War is A Racket by Major General Smedley Darlington Butler.
posted by elpapacito at 2:54 AM on May 29, 2012


I don't think one can really separate the cause a soldier is fighting for from the bravery of the soldier himself

Obviously they can and do. And, of course, one man's rebel is another man's freedom fighter, one man's invading army is another man's liberator, so you have that dynamic going as well.

Worth reading, esp. for the "All Soldiers Are Dumb Psychoes" crowd, is What It's Like To Go To War

For Shakespeare's take, start on line 1970

I've read that the civil war awards were often pretty watered down and even used as incentives to get veterans to reenlist. The award to Douglas MacArthur has long been controversial. Generally speaking, the standards have risen over the years.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:08 AM on May 29, 2012


My grandpa, who survived WWII, never told us his wartime experiences. And so I remember him on Memorial Day because his is a story that went untold, like the soldiers, sailors and airmen who didn't come home.

His cousin was in the Bataan Death March, and also lived, but even though he wrote a book I think about what died inside him over those months. So I remember him that day, too.

But mostly Memorial Day is about those who died, and about pausing for some gratitude and respect for their sacrifice. (Not about sales at car dealerships, or cheery "Happy Memorial Day!" greetings, or much else.)

On this day, set aside the causes of the wars, and bring your focus way, way in on those who wore a uniform and came home in a coffin under a flag.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:56 AM on May 29, 2012


Also, reading these is very moving. The Pritzker Military Library has, as part of its awesome podcast, a series of 45 MoH winners telling their own stories: http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/Home/The-medal-of-honor.aspx
posted by wenestvedt at 6:57 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


But it is what "Memorial Day" is for in the United States. Honoring the service of all members of our armed forces throughout history

I thought that was Veteran's Day. Memorial Day is for honoring those killed in wars.
posted by thelonius at 9:38 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


But for me? I was maybe 20-21. 12,000K miles from the cornfield town I grew up in, doing things that made my asshole pucker up tighter than a nun in a cold church.

[...]

I knew back then what I was doing was both important and untellable. I knew that on my first mission.


Substitute 12,000K miles with lightyears and/or milliseconds and you could be talking about some of my earliest, wildest, most untethered excursions into the psychedelic realm (specifically, LSD). Indeed, it's long been my opinion that many young men (and women) do desperately WANT/need extreme experience at this point in their lives, almost like childhood's innocence is a disease that must be jettisoned by any means necessary. So if there's not some real world war zone handy where we can go test ourselves, we'll find one in the Beyond Within.

So when do we veterans of the psychic wars get our holiday?
posted by philip-random at 9:39 AM on May 29, 2012


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posted by ElGuapo at 10:04 AM on May 29, 2012


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posted by rahnefan at 10:07 AM on May 29, 2012


I put that in quotations because its absurd to suggest that a vast majority of the people who have lost their lives in the course of an armed conflict would, when put to a choice, decide to forfeit their lives in order to further some nebulous ideology or goal or objective that isn't really clear to them anyways. And also to suggest that service in the military is a "sacrifice" in itself, even when the threat of death isn't imminent. People join the military because they want to find a career path, get money for college, find a niche in society, or because they are rampant sociopaths who want a legitimate venue for killing people. Not because they are high-minded idealists who just want to shield the precious Constitution from harm, even if it costs them their lives.

I am really glad that I read this late, and not on the day I was at Arlington, honoring and remembering my dead friends. So you get the benefit of a slightly cooler head calling you to task about this.

Look, I opposed the Iraq War too. Lots of veterans did. But to use that as an excuse to denigrate the majority of people you served with is just vile. Yes, the majority of people fighting in these current wars aren't laying down their lives for the nebulous goals or objectives. They laid them down for their fellow veterans. They laid them down for the vast majority of Americans that has chosen not to serve.

And yes, a lot of the folks I served with were in fact high-minded idealists. I know I was. You may not have been, and you may be letting that filter through. But don't insult the rest of us because of your bitterness.
posted by corb at 2:01 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm here in the Canadian wilds, enjoying the newfound internet access, and I thought I should add another story. My grandfather started this trip, hunting and fishing with his cronies, throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Quebec, New Brunswick . . . one of the men he used to go with was Frank.

Frank was what my father calls a character, who liked fishing, hunting, whiskey, and . . . companionship. And he used to get pulled over a lot. Mostly becuase he had one of these.

My father, through his connections, arranged for Joe Rosenthal to sign his famous picture takin on Iwo Jima for him. Joe had done his homework, signed it to 'Franklin.'

SIGLER, FRANKLIN EARL

Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, 2d Battalion, 26th Marines, 5th Marine Division. Place and date: Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 14 March 1945. Entered service at: New Jersey. Born: 6 November 1924, Glen Ridge, N.J. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines, 5th Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the seizure of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands on 14 March 1945. Voluntarily taking command of his rifle squad when the leader became a casualty, Pvt. Sigler fearlessly led a bold charge against an enemy gun installation which had held up the advance of his company for several days and, reaching the position in advance of the others, assailed the emplacement with handgrenades and personally annihilated the entire crew. As additional Japanese troops opened fire from concealed tunnels and caves above, he quickly scaled the rocks leading to the attacking guns, surprised the enemy with a furious l-man assault and, although severely wounded in the encounter, deliberately crawled back to his squad position where he steadfastly refused evacuation, persistently directing heavy machinegun and rocket barrages on the Japanese cave entrances. Undaunted by the merciless rain of hostile fire during the intensified action, he gallantly disregarded his own painful wounds to aid casualties, carrying 3 wounded squad members to safety behind the lines and returning to continue the battle with renewed determination until ordered to retire for medical treatment. Stouthearted and indomitable in the face of extreme peril, Pvt. Sigler, by his alert initiative, unfaltering leadership, and daring tactics in a critical situation, effected the release of his besieged company from enemy fire and contributed essentially to its further advance against a savagely fighting enemy. His superb valor, resolute fortitude, and heroic spirit of self-sacrifice throughout reflect the highest credit upon Pvt. Sigler and the U.S. Naval Service.


My father asked him, one boozy night, what had inspired him.

"They were shooting at us for three days, non-stop. I was going crazy. I just couldn't take it anymore - somebody had to do something - I had to do something. . ."

So I'll have one for Frank, and for the others, who made it home, and those they left behind.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:30 PM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chris Hayes’s Honesty Mistake: Troops Need Citizens Questioning Policy. Critics seized on the talk-show host’s deviation from standard Memorial Day tropes. But cowing to post-9/11 fearmongers doesn’t do justice to those who are making the sacrifice.
posted by homunculus at 12:11 PM on June 3, 2012


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