Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Heroism Makes a Comeback

President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest decoration for heroism to two living recipients in 2011 — in 2010, there was only one. The President awarded the Medal of Honor to Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry, who saved the lives of his fellow Army Rangers but lost his hand while throwing back an enemy grenade; and to Sgt. Dakota Meyer, the first living Marine to receive the award since Vietnam, who fought his way back into an ambush five times and saved the lives of 36 Marines and soldiers. Writing about Meyer's actions, military historian Big West said, "For a man to charge into fire once requires grit that is instinctive in few men ... to go in a fourth time is to know you will die; to go in a fifth time is beyond comprehension." The honorees have appeared on Letterman and The Daily Show, been hailed at NFL games and rung the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Yet there had been precious little coverage of a controversy from the Battle of Ganjgal, for which Meyer was decorated. Several veterans of that battle, including Meyer, have described the unheralded heroism in that same fight of former Army Captain William Swenson, who openly criticized his commanders for refusing to send support. Marine General John Allen personally re-opened the battle record and recommended Swenson for the Medal of Honor, saying it was "the right thing to do." The recommendation could be downgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest award for heroism. This would require little fanfare and avoid questions about whether the troops who fought that day were adequately supported. But if Swenson is recognized with the Medal of Honor, it would continue 2011's trend of honoring heroes as the war in Afghanistan finally moves towards a close.