Purple Hearts and Vietnam

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Jimmyeatworld, Aug 31, 2004.

  1. Jimmyeatworld
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    Jimmyeatworld Silver Member

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    This is a letter to the editor from the Monday Dallas Morning News. I thought it was quite interesting.

    Medals manipulated
    While the majority of military decorations awarded for action in combat are justified, many are not. Medals are cherished for many reasons, including enhancing promotion opportunities and even, apparently, positioning the recipient for a later political career.

    I will never forget attending a 1968 ceremony in which my company commander was awarded the Silver Star, and his driver the Bronze Star. Each had nominated the other for the award. Two of my men and I had been there that morning when the incident on which those medals were awarded supposedly occurred. In fact, nothing whatsoever had happened – it had been made up by the two medal recipients.

    Any Vietnam veteran will tell you that this kind of fabrication happened far too often. As B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley write in their superb book, Stolen Valor, "For the clever and committed, the system is easy to manipulate, a reality that often surprises those not familiar with the military."

    Jack Allday, U.S. Army, 1966-69, Dallas
     
  2. CSM
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    CSM Senior Member

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    Newhouse.com
    August 27, 2004

    In Times Of War, Standards For Medals Can Vary Widely

    By David Wood, Newhouse News Service

    WASHINGTON -- Like the tax code, the military regulations governing the award of combat medals run to hundreds of pages, struggling through multipart definitions and sub-subparagraphs to define what guys in combat know is not measurable:

    Who is a hero?

    A hint of the trouble comes from this bold statement in a U.S. Army document recording the 49,861 medals it has handed out for Iraq war service: "It is fair to state that the actual number of individual decorations awarded under combat conditions cannot be stated with absolute certainty."

    In fact, there is little agreement inside the military even on the relatively simple fact of what a medal stands for. "How'd he get it?" is the reaction many veterans have when eyeing someone's Silver or Bronze Star.

    Little wonder that the public, watching the back-and-forth over whether John Kerry earned his Vietnam medals, can't sort out who got what citations, what it all meant then, and what it means today.

    Particularly contentious are medals given to those engaged in close combat, "the psychologically searing moment when you look somebody in the eye and put a bullet in his chest and he looks at you with that quizzical look before he dies," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr., a historian and former commandant of the U.S. Army War College.

    What happens then, Scales said, "is unmeasurable. It's shrouded in mystery and folklore."

    The Silver Star, for example, must be awarded for "gallantry" in combat -- but only for gallantry "performed with marked distinction."

    When Marines assault through the cemetery in Najaf, Iraq, no accounting of the ammunition each man uses or the yardage he gains can parse the difference between gallantry with or without "marked distinction." In the large sense, they are all heroes; who gets medals is a different issue.

    Fred Allison, a Marine Corps historian, tells of pilots in Vietnam who would descend amid hot firefights to medevac wounded Marines -- and be astonished to discover weeks later that the grateful men had recommended them for heroism.

    "To the pilots, landing under fire to get the wounded was routine," Allison said. "To the grunts pinned down under fire, it was a very heroic thing."

    Little wonder that in wartime, combat decorations are awarded by field commanders who may rely more on gut instinct than Army regulations to guide them. Even so, the weight of the process is on following regulations, and they are prodigious.

    Army regulation (AR) 600-8-22, governing the recommendations of individuals for decorations, allows an initial form (DA Form 638) to be filled out by hand, and specifies the conditions under which it must be typed ("only if non-PAC personnel prepare the form").

    Recommendations for medals are forwarded from units to battalions and on up the chain of command. Higher combat decorations, such as the Bronze and Silver Stars, are adjudicated by a panel of officers who examine eyewitness statements; descriptions of the terrain and weather; assessments of enemy strength, weapons and morale; photographs; and other battlefield evidence.

    But even this requires subjectivity, such as judging "the degree to which the act was voluntary and exceeded what was normally expected of the individual."

    Purple Hearts, lesser awards given for wounds received under fire, are even more subjective. Anyone can fill in the paperwork and forward it to a supervisor, who checks it and sends it up to an "approving authority." This may be a battalion commander, ship's commanding officer, or a medical officer in a combat hospital.

    Army regulations specify that medals must not be given for such "wounds" as frostbite, battle fatigue, accidents or food poisoning (unless "caused by enemy agent"). Purple Heart citations "should be" supported by eyewitness statements.

    Following these regulations rigidly, however, can produce odd results.

    Scales, an artillery battery commander in Vietnam, remembered a fellow soldier who came to be known as "Magnet-Ass" for his uncanny ability to get wounded:

    "At our firebase once, a bunch of us were standing around with Magnet-Ass and a shell landed nearby and a piece of shrapnel comes swinging by and guess who it hits? It got so we'd ask him to go stand someplace else."

    Eventually, Scales said, the soldier collected six Purple Hearts.

    But battlefield commanders are given discretion to waive the stiff requirements for a Purple Heart to ensure that it is given "to deserving personnel," the regulations state.

    Thus, Purple Hearts were awarded to soldiers killed or wounded in a terrorist attack on a discotheque in Berlin in 1986; to military passengers aboard Pan Am Flight 103, brought down by a terrorist bomb in 1988; and to soldiers in an office building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that was bombed in 1995.

    During the air war over the former Yugoslavia, the Bronze Star, intended to recognize heroism or meritorious achievement in combat against an enemy, was awarded to four Air Force officers working in the Pentagon and by the Navy to officers working in desk jobs in Naples, Italy, according to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. And after the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, the Army handed out more combat medals than there were soldiers who actually landed on the Caribbean island.

    But critics of the military's penchant for handing out too many medals tend to be outside the military.

    "Within the brotherhood," said Scales, "we know who the warriors are."

    Still, medals are awarded, and worn with pride, to reflect something of the heroism and courage and honor of combat -- even if battlefield reality cannot be fully appreciated outside the circles of combat veterans.

    "A soldier will fight long and hard," Napoleon observed to a French naval officer in 1815, "for a little bit of colored ribbon."


    Unfortunately, medals get devalued rather rapidly. Those who truly deserve them often do not get them, while those who do not sometimes do.
     
  3. freeandfun1
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    freeandfun1 VIP Member

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    During GW1 our CSM got lost trying to find the TOC. While roaming around, he and his driver came across an Iraqi tank that had two Iraqi soldiers standing on top waving a white flag. The CSM and the driver took the two prisoner and set off explosives disabling the tank. Upon our return to the USA, our CSM was awarded a Silver Star for his "heroic" actions.

    I know this story is true, cuz even the CSM would joke about it and his driver was a friend of mine and he would joke about it. BTW: The driver wasn't given ANYTHING.
     
  4. CSM
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    CSM Senior Member

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    Your story is a good example of what I mean. The question is, who submitted the CSM for a medal?
     
  5. freeandfun1
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    freeandfun1 VIP Member

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    The Battalion Commander and he didn't even witness the incident.

    To take it further, there were entire Battalions after GW1 that gave Bronze Stars to EVERY soldier in the unit. They were mostly units from the 1st ID Forward out of Germany.
     
  6. Merlin1047
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    Merlin1047 Senior Member

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    Without getting long-winded on delving into needless detail, I can vouch for the fact that the statement above is absolutely true.
     
  7. Jimmyeatworld
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    Jimmyeatworld Silver Member

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    I had heard stories, but I hear a lot of stories about a lot of things. I guess it wouldn't surprise me if it happened occasionally, but I really didn't think it happened that often. I'm going to have to look for that book.
     
  8. Merlin1047
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    Merlin1047 Senior Member

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    I wouldn't characterize it as being commonplace, but for those who sought to exploit the system, it was amazingly easy.
     

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