By Merrill Robinson
While watching true war movies such as “Lone Survivor,” “Zero Dark Thirty” or “Band of Brothers,” it often occurs to me that veterans watch these movies to remember their time at war. But even Hollywood has a blurred line of what being a hero means.
There are currently only 79 living Medal of Honor recipients. The Medal of Honor is the highest decoration a soldier in the United States Armed Forces can earn by “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” Most soldiers who are decorated with this honor were killed in action.
The Medal of Honor is notorious for being difficult to earn; only 464 soldiers were awarded the honor during World War II, and 209 soldiers have been awarded it since the start of the Iraq War in 2003. On the other hand, over one million Purple Heart medals were awarded to World War II soldiers, and over 35,000 were awarded to Iraq War soldiers.
Even though these honors and awards exist, that doesn’t mean these veterans are the only heroes to come out of the United States Armed Forces.
Troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars voluntarily enlisted in the United States Armed Forces, whereas during World War II, the federal government relied primarily on the conscription in the United States, also known as “the draft,” in order to raise military manpower.
Regardless of how these soldiers got into the armed forces, they are still given a duty to fight for the general welfare of Americans at whatever costs.
It shouldn’t matter how these soldiers obtained their uniforms, whether they voluntarily enlisted or were drafted. What should matter is what it means to wear the uniforms and what they’re doing in order to earn the right to wear it.
While it should always be a soldier’s initiative to earn higher decorated medals, it does not define whether a soldier is a hero or not. Their heroism should be defined by the work and training they have endured to ensure a safe America. It should be defined by their selflessness and willingness to protect the general welfare of our country and for the freedom of its people.
Due to the Hollywood portrayal of soldiers risking their lives to save the lives of fellow soldiers, many believe that the soldiers who deserve to be ‘honored’ are the ones who sacrificed everything. But have you ever stopped and said “thank you” to the soldier that was wearing their uniform out in public? Those soldiers deserve to be thanked for their service just as much as the soldiers who are overseas in the combat zones.
It warms my heart when I see veterans wearing their armed forces hats or shirts out in public. These are the men and women who carry the work that they achieved while in service with pride – as they should.
The sacrifices that soldiers make; being shipped overseas for months at a time, their friends and fellow soldiers dying and being in combat, are sacrifices most people would not make. The veterans who did should wear it with pride.
My two grandfathers were both pilots in World War II. My father’s father, “Pa,” as we called him, was a U.S. Army pilot and flew the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. This was a flight area that Allied pilots called flying “The Hump.” Flying “The Hump” was extremely dangerous and borderline suicidal due to the monsoons that occurred in the Indian jungles six months out of the year.
My mother’s father, “Ging Ging,” was a U.S. Marine Corps pilot patrolling areas over Northern China while they helped the Chinese rebuild the country after Japan ransacked them at the end of the war.
For the rest of their lives, my grandfathers enjoy nothing more than flying a plane through the air. When my Pa was passing away in the hospital, he held his hand out flat and recited to us, “I’m going West,” a popular term for a secretive pilot group called the “Quiet Birdsmen” that he was a member of in his hometown community.
My grandfathers carry their armed forces memories with them every day. Their duty in the United States military is something that they are both eternally grateful for and prideful of.
It doesn’t matter that my grandfathers had some of the most dangerous jobs in the armed forces. What matters is that they completed their duty everyday to the best of their capability to ensure that America would remain protected and unharmed during a war that holds the most casualties in history.
In my Ging Ging’s favorite words, “All gave some, and some gave all.”