The Medal of Honor: Finally for a Living Soldier? (UPDATED)

For acts of valor during the Vietnam War, 246 Medals of Honor—our nation’s highest military decoration—were awarded to our heroes.

For acts of heroism during World War II, 464 Medals of Honor have been awarded—27 of these Medals of Honor were awarded for the single World War II battle of Iwo Jima.

In contrast, after almost nine years of fierce fighting in Afghanistan and after more than seven years of equally grueling combat in Iraq, only six Medals of Honor have been awarded to heroes of those campaigns.

Much has been written about such dearth of recognition and, as with most “controversial” issues (in my opinion this one should not be at all controversial), opinions vary and many reasons, pro and con, are given by those debating this issue. In “The Medal of Honor: Too Few and Too Late?” I listed some of those reasons.

However, there is one aspect of this issue that is a stark and sad fact.

All six Medals of Honor for acts of valor in Iraq and Afghanistan have been awarded posthumously.

Hopefully, this is about to change.

According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon has nominated a living soldier for the Medal of Honor for the first time since the Vietnam War:

The soldier, whose nomination must be reviewed by the White House, ran through a wall of enemy fire in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in fall 2007 in an attempt to push back Taliban fighters who were close to overrunning his squad. U.S. military officials said his actions saved the lives of about half a dozen men.

According to the Post, the review has been conducted so discretely that not even the family of the soldier knows that the nomination has reached the White House. Furthermore, the Washington post has been asked by the Pentagon not to divulge the name of the soldier “to avoid influencing the White House review.”

Last fall, at a Pentagon press conference, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that the lack of a living Medal of Honor recipient from Iraq or Afghanistan was “a source of real concern to me” and one of former President George W. Bush’s “real regrets that he did not have the opportunity to honor a living Medal of Honor…recipient.”

He added:

[W]e are looking at this. There are — I would — without getting into any details, there are some in process. But it is, as everybody knows, a very time-intensive, thorough process. But I would say that I’ve been told there are some living potential recipients that are — that have been put forward.

And indeed, the Post reports that:

There are at least three Medal of Honor nominations, including the one at the White House, working through the system. The three nominees served in sparsely populated valleys in eastern Afghanistan that U.S. troops have abandoned in recent years.

The valleys, which are within 30 miles of each other, are dominated by treacherous, mountainous terrain that frequently allowed enemy fighters to move within close range of U.S. forces before launching their attack. The remote nature of the valleys meant that troops often had to fight for an hour before attack helicopters arrived on the scene to drive back the enemy.

The Post goes on to describe how the fighting in those valleys has been some of the toughest since the Korean and Vietnam wars, and how one of the authors of the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine ties the relatively large number of potential Medal of Honor nominees from these remote valleys to a strategy where U.S. commanders were asked to “do too much with too few resources.”

“We should be stationing our troops in places where they won’t be earning the Medal of Honor because the population and terrain favor us and we have quick access to air support,” said John Nagl, one of the authors of the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine and president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense think tank.

Whatever you think of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, whatever you think of the strategies for those wars, I hope that you will agree that it’s about time that we continue to honor, perhaps more frequently, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, but also those who have lived to tell about their heroism.

Some previous posts on this subject:

http://themoderatevoice.com/76598/the-medal-of-honor-why-so-scarce/

http://themoderatevoice.com/74353/memorial-day-2010-time-to-recognize-valor/

http://themoderatevoice.com/30745/stolen-valor-at-the-highest-levels-the-case-of-sgt-rafael-peralta/

Also:

http://www.stripes.com/news/us/despite-criticism-medals-of-honor-still-scarce-for-current-wars-1.107202

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/magazine/30medals-t.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&hp

http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2009/03/military_medal_of_honor_032509w/

UPDATE:

A couple of web sites have indicated that SSG Sal Giunta, a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne, will be the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War.

Read more here and here.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist