Last week US Army Sgt 1st Class Jared C. Monti was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan on 21 June 2006. His parents received the Medal from the President in a ceremony at the White House. After reading about Monti’s heroism and the award ceremony, it made me think that, as far as I could recall, every Medal of Honor recipient involved in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have received our nation’s highest honor after being killed in combat. I did a little research on the Internet and, sure enough, two Medals of Honor have now been awarded for operations in Afghanistan, four in Iraq, all posthumously. To me, that doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t seem possible.
Being killed is not a requirement for receiving the Medal of Honor. In Vietnam 246 Medals of Honor were awarded, 154 posthumously. That means in southeast Asia, 37% of those awarded the Medal of Honor survived their heroic incident. US involvement in Vietnam lasted for 14 years, an average of almost 18 Medals of Honor per year. I know the scale of the conflict is different but we’ve been in Afghanistan and Iraq over six years with only six Medals of Honor, an average of just one a year. My point here is that, without a doubt, there have been many more acts of heroism, many that probably warrant the Medal of Honor, than just six. I certainly do not want to water down the Medal of Honor or purposely pursue increased numbers of the award. However, I have to believe that there are walking, living heroes out there that deserve the recognition of their courage and selflessness.
Maybe commanders, for whatever reason, have become reluctant to elevate acts of heroism. Maybe approving authorities are hesitant to endorse them at the Medal of Honor level. I’m not trying to create an issue, I’m just asking a question. Of course there have been hundreds and hundreds of heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan and just about every military participant there has some inkling of hero in them. However, when you get to the echelons of the Medal of Honor and the only recipients have been killed during their courageous efforts, to me, it creates an almost depressing image of our involvement there. It’s almost as if we’re saying that our bravest and most noble are gone and maybe our chances of winning are too.
Heroes are important. They inspire us to be like them. They rally people to a cause that may be difficult to support at times but because of their unwavering allegiance we have the strength and desire to press on too. Honoring a hero should not have to always include also mourning them. It’s important to be able to be near them, to shake their hand, to hear them speak and, in all that, to be moved and motivated by them. I know there are heroes out there that warrant the Medal of Honor who have protected their comrades, destroyed the enemy and walked away. I want to hear their story and I want to see them honored at the highest level our country has to offer.