HEROES WHO REJECT PURPLE HEARTS
September 9, 2004
As every conscious American knows by now, John Kerry won three Purple Hearts during his short stint in Vietnam. We also know that Kerry immediately jumped on the next flight home, where he vigorously protested the war, testified before Congress that his fellow veterans were war criminals, had meetings in Europe with enemy North Vietnamese officials, and then made the first of his many runs for elective office.
Kerry has no missing arms or legs to testify to his sacrifice for his country. He has no patch over an empty eye socket. He can’t even show us the ugly scars where hot lead ripped through his young body. He just has the medals.
Whether Kerry’s medals were earned or deserved, however, is not the point of this article. This article is about his response to them.
Recently, I was watching the Fox News Channel, when I heard an interview with Colonel Oliver North. Colonel North, who served with the rifle infantry, the troops who saw the most intense fighting of the war, said something in the interview that made me see Kerry’s medals in an entirely different light.
Almost in passing, North said: I earned five Purple Hearts, but I rejected the last three, because I didn’t want to leave my men.
North did not elaborate or talk further about his wounds. Like most real heroes, he quickly changed the subject and moved on. My mind, however, didn’t move on.
I heard Colonel Oliver North say that he was wounded five times, but refused Purple Hearts for the last three wounds, because he knew that under military procedure, a third medal would have meant an automatic ticket home. Accepting a third medal would have meant leaving his men there in the jungles of Southeast Asia without him.
That’s something to think about. Here was Oliver North, sustaining real wounds in real combat, and rejecting medal after medal out of loyalty to his men; while on the other hand John Kerry was collecting Purple Hearts as fast as he could for scratches that required no more treatment than a pair of tweezers and a band-aid.
North knew that his men needed him. He knew his fellow soldiers would not be on the flight home with him, so he rejected the medals and stayed with the troops. Kerry just wanted to go home.
I understand why Kerry would want to get the heck out of Vietnam. I can even understand why he would manipulate the system to do so. Self-preservation is human nature, but then, sometimes, so is cowardice.
What I have a serious problem with is shamelessly manipulating the system to get one’s self out of danger, and then 35 years later claiming to be a war hero, so you can be President of the United States of America. No way around it, that’s a pretty stinky thing to do.
I remember those days well. I understand the fear of being sent to Vietnam. The war was still waxing hot when I turned 18 back in 1969. Friends a year or two older than I were being drafted, trained a bit, then shipped off to the jungles of Southeast Asia to fight one of the most difficult wars in American history.
Like most of my classmates, I thought I was going to have to go, too. But then I got lucky. I mean that literally. I didn’t go to Vietnam, because I got lucky.
The year I became eligible for the draft, the Selective Service System switched from the old style draft to a new “lottery” system, wherein all 365 or 366 days of the year were put into a hat, so to speak, and drawn randomly. Young men’s birthdays determined the order in which they were drafted.
My birthday was June 2nd, a date which happened to be pulled from the hat on the 314th draw, putting me safely out of reach of the military, barring a major escalation of the war. I remember the relief. For me, the threat of Vietnam was all but dismissed. I safely went off to college without so much as requesting a deferment.
For others, avoiding Vietnam was not so easy as being born on a lucky day. Some moved north to Canada to avoid the draft. Some refused to register. Some, like John Kerry, went into the Naval Reserve, not expecting duty in Vietnam. Others, like George W. Bush, joined the Air National Guard, and avoided Vietnam altogether.
Of those who went to Vietnam, some became heroes. Some won medals for bravery or for being wounded. Some won no distinction, other than dying in service to their country and having their names engraved on a memorial at the Capitol Mall.
John Kerry’s case in unusual. Kerry, a young naval officer, was awarded a handful of medals, including three Purple Hearts, in a very short four-month tour of duty.
When all things are considered, it appears that Kerry, who never wanted to be in Vietnam or had ulterior reasons for being there, simply studied the rules of the game, manipulated the system so as to collect as many medals as were necessary, and thus got his fanny out of Vietnam and out of danger as quickly as possible.
If I was a Hollywood director, wanting to make an inspiring war movie, I don’t think I would choose John Kerry’s story for my plot. Rather, I would make a movie about an officer who was wounded several times during intense, direct engagement with the enemy and had earned the right to go home, but out of loyalty to his men, rejected the medals and stayed in Vietnam, knowing that the next time he fell, he might not get back up.
I once heard a preacher say, “You can stare at a stick all day and debate whether it’s straight or not. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But if you set a truly straight stick along side the stick in question, the debate will end. If the stick is crooked, it will be obvious to everyone when you compare it to a truly straight one.” Same goes for war heroes.
© 2004 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
Oliver North, sustaining real wounds in real combat, and rejecting medal after medal out of loyalty to his men; while on the other hand John Kerry was collecting Purple Hearts as fast as he could for scratches that required no more treatment than a pair of tweezers and a band-aid.