Sunday, October 10, 2004

Earning Purple Hearts, and accepting them, which are two different things

There has been a load of talk and writing about John Kerry's three Purple Hearts, and whether or not he deserved him. What is not in question is that he didn't lose a minute of service time to two of the three wounds, and barely bled from those two. Context, as always, is useful in thinking about all of this. So here's some.

Nicky Daniel Bacon was a Staff Sergeant with the 11th Infantry Brigade of the Americal Division in the US Army in Vietnam. I've been reading a book by Larry Smith, Beyond Glory, which is a series of first-person accounts of military service by surviving Congressional Medal of Honor winners from WWII to Viet Nam, and in it Bacon describes the action that won him the Medal, and his feelings about the Purple Heart:

"I've got one Purple Heart, and I guess I could have had three or four. It's my fault but the infantry didn't give out Purple Hearts for little bitty stuff, and you wouldn't take it anyway. I suffered a concussion in the battle of Tam Ky. I was bleeding from the ears and nose, had shellshock. I didn't take anything for that.

"General Westmoreland was at the White House for my Medal ceremony, and he came in before the President. My family was there, and he came over and introduced himself and them came back to me and said, 'Why didn't you get a Purple Heart for that action?' He had talked to my battalion commander, the company commander, the troop commander. He had eyes that could stare through you and he just kept looking at me and he says, 'I can't believe this shit. I can't believe you went through all that without getting hit.' I said, "Sir, as far as I know, with the exception of this concussion, I did not get hit with a bullet.'

"I got my boot heel shot off, I got holes in my canteens, I got my rifle grip shot up, I got shrapnel holes in my camouflage covers, and bullets in my pot (helmet). A bullet creased the edge of it, tore the lining off. All that stuff, and I suffered a major expolsion that everybody seen, blowed me in. Actually, it probably saved my life. They was tearing me up with machine gun fire, and I just got blowed into a hole. They thought I was dead. They just stopped firing at me."

Bacon fought on even after that. But no Purple Heart, because he didn't feel he deserved one. Compare with John Kerry's Purple Hearts and you'll understand my problem with Kerry's version of his Vietnam service. I will always respect him for serving, and I understand nobody wanted to die at that point in the Vietnam War, not Bush, not Cheney, not Kerry, not even Bob Kerrey, a Medal of Honor winner himself. I'm sure it seemed pointless to be "the last man to die for a mistake," (although I don't think the Viet Nam War was a mistake by any stretch of the imagination) and I wouldn't expect anyone to do the things that win soldiers medals in that situation. But you don't hear Bob Kerrey droning on about what a hero he was, and he has far more reason to do so than John Kerry, as does John McCain, WWII MOH winner Senator Daniel Inouye, and many, many others. Real heroes don't brag about their heroism.

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