Earlier this month, when President Joe Biden fastened the Congressional Medal of Honor around retired U.S. Army Col. Paris Davis’ neck, it was a welcome pause to the endless venomous rhetoric, political feuding and lawlessness that plagues our nation.
For a few hours, America’s attention was on Davis and the sacrifices those in our military make to preserve our safety, freedoms and way of life. Those who serve us on the frontline of danger, whether they are cops, firefighters, medics or members of our armed services, are too important to be taken for granted and trashed. We need to have their backs.
Davis’ selfless service to his fellow citizens should be a catalyst to refocus all of us, particularly our political leaders. The medal ceremony brings us together. We have lapsed into an “all about me” insensitive culture and those who protect us are only important when we personally are being assaulted, robbed or scammed.
The most recent medal ceremony was the culmination of a 60-year effort to recognize Davis’ valor as a Green Beret in Vietnam. In 1964, as a Special Forces captain, he put his life at risk during a battle against North Vietnamese forces near Bong Son. Davis pulled soldiers to safety even though he was shot in the leg and hit with grenade fragments.
He was not the first Black American to receive the Medal of Honor, but he is our country’s first Black Special Forces officer earning it. Since it was created by Congress in 1861 at the beginning of the American Civil War, more than 3,500 men received the medal. There have been 88 African American, 41 Hispanic American, 22 Native American, 22 Asian American recipients and a woman recipient.
Of the more than 41 million men and women who served in America's military, only Dr. Mary Walker, a Civil War abolitionist, prohibitionist, prisoner of war and combat surgeon, was awarded the medal. Her recommendation came from then General Ulysses Grant. President Andrew Johnson bestowed the honor in 1865.
Presidents from both political parties made the presentations. While Biden is a Democrat, George W. Bush, a Republican, had the honor of presenting it to Olympia chopper pilot Maj. Bruce Crandall in 2007. He commanded an air assault unit composed of 16 helicopters in Vietnam. On Nov. 14, 1965, Crandall completed 22 flights, most under intense enemy fire, providing ammunition and supplies and airlifting wounded.
Over 625 medals were awarded after death (posthumously) and 19 military members have been awarded a second medal for their valor in different wars.
Not all medal winners carried guns and grenades. U.S. Navy Chaplain Lt. Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll Catholic priest, volunteered for combat to minister to frontline Marines in Vietnam. His only weapons were a Bible, rosaries and chrisoms (holy oils) used to anoint wounded and dying on the battlefield. In September 1967, Capodanno was shot by enemy machine gunners during a daring attempt to aid injured Marines and a mortally wounded corpsman.
In reading the stories of the medal winners and millions of others who have fought, been wounded or are coping with emotional disorders, it puts life into perspective. It makes one wonder what our values are these days and if those criticizing our country understand the sacrifices of those putting their lives on the line to protect us.
There is more work to do. Refocusing is paramount.
By best estimates there are more than 1.8 million Purple Heart recipients who suffered from lingering war wounds, physical disabilities and post traumatic stress disorder. Thousands of veterans remain homeless.
Working on ways to help veterans and those currently serving hopefully will be “America’s great unifier.”
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.