Peter Collier reminds us that the relegation of America's heroes to the back pages of our national consciousness isn't a good thing for us. Collier knows a bit about heroes, having interviewed living Medal of Honor recipients for a book. He recounts the stories of just a few of these men in today's Opinion Journal.
Yet their stories were not only about killing. Several Medal of Honor recipients told me that the first thing they did after the battle was to find a church or some other secluded spot where they could pray, not only for those comrades they'd lost but also the enemy they'd killed.
Desmond Doss, for instance, was a conscientious objector who entered the army in 1942 and became a medic. Because of his religious convictions and refusal to carry a weapon, the men in his unit intimidated and threatened him, trying to get him to transfer out. He refused and they grudgingly accepted him. Late in 1945 he was with them in Okinawa when they got cut to pieces assaulting a Japanese stronghold.
Everyone but Mr. Doss retreated from the rocky plateau where dozens of wounded remained. Under fire, he treated them and then began moving them one by one to a steep escarpment where he roped them down to safety. Each time he succeeded, he prayed, "Dear God, please let me get just one more man." By the end of the day, he had single-handedly saved 75 GIs.
Why did they do it? Some talked of entering a zone of slow-motion invulnerability, where they were spectators at their own heroism. But for most, the answer was simpler and more straightforward: They couldn't let their buddies down.
Big for his age at 14, Jack Lucas begged his mother to help him enlist after Pearl Harbor. She collaborated in lying about his age in return for his promise to someday finish school. After training at Parris Island, he was sent to Honolulu. When his unit boarded a troop ship for Iwo Jima, Mr. Lucas was ordered to remain behind for guard duty. He stowed away to be with his friends and, discovered two days out at sea, convinced his commanding officer to put him in a combat unit rather than the brig. He had just turned 17 when he hit the beach, and a day later he was fighting in a Japanese trench when he saw two grenades land near his comrades.
He threw himself onto the grenades and absorbed the explosion. Later a medic, assuming he was dead, was about to take his dog tag when he saw Mr. Lucas's finger twitch. After months of treatment and recovery, he returned to school as he'd promised his mother, a ninth-grader wearing a Medal of Honor around his neck.
But, as Collier points out, these men are treated almost as a curiosity these days. Leftovers from a long-forgotten tradition that is no longer fashionable. The danger of consigning men such as these to the back pages is that without such bravery, there can be no freedom. Go read the whole thing – let's try to bring these men off the back pages at least on this one day when we are supposed to honor them and all the others who have fallen in the service of this land of the free.