In a fitting Veterans Day tribute, this morning’s USA Today recognizes America’s “21st Century Heroes,” a relatively small group of U.S. military servicemen who received our country's highest honors for their valor in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Good for USA Today. There hasn’t been much coverage of America's military heroes — indeed, back in June the Media Research Center noted that a three-week time period saw three times more network TV coverage of allegations of military misconduct than coverage of America’s top military heroes over a five year period.
This morning’s USA Today story, by Gregg Zoroya and Oren Dorell, helps restore some much-needed balance. “As the nation observes Veterans Day, America is witnessing a new generation of combat heroes from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq," they write. The front-page of the paper carries a November 2004 photo of Marine Sgt. Maj. Bradley Kasal being carried out of a firefight in Fallujah, where his heroism earned him the Navy Cross. An excerpt:
Compared with other American wars, the number of medal recipients in Iraq and Afghanistan is small. That's because the earlier conflicts lasted longer, involved more U.S. troops and featured more intense combat, says retired Marine lieutenant colonel Thomas Richards. He earned a Navy Cross in Vietnam and is a senior official with the Legion of Valor, an association of medal recipients
As with those earlier heroes, the stories of gallantry coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan offer glimpses into the horrors of war. This new generation of decorated troops talks of acting without thinking, except for moments of clarity when death seemed inevitable.
"I thought I'd bleed to death," recalls [Sgt. Maj. Bradley] Kasal, 40, who earned a Navy Cross. "That's why I rolled over (the wounded Marine) to save him."
The medal recipients describe the shock of witnessing, and playing a part in, unimaginable violence. Some talk of emotional wounds still raw long after the fighting. Others say the medal itself bears a psychological weight — and carries consequences.
After receiving the Navy Cross, Marine reservist Scott Montoya, 37, says he was slightly embarrassed to see his face plastered on billboards in Orange County, Calif., where he's a sheriff's deputy.
Airman John Chapman, 31, of San Antonio, a combat air controller posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for action in Afghanistan, had a ship named after him.
A toy company created an action figure in the image of Air Force Cross recipient Jason Cunningham, 26, of Camarillo, Calif. Marine Capt. Brian "Tosh" Chontosh's charge down an enemy trench became a segment in a video game, and he was asked to escort President Bush at a 2004 inaugural ball.
"They went in with the human frailties we all possess," says Wynton Hall, co-author of 'Home of the Brave,' a book on contemporary valor, "and they managed to perform somehow in an extraordinary way."
The entire article is well worth reading, and spending a few minutes this Veterans Day reflecting on the amazing bravery of these fine men.