I know that may seem like a strange statement since I am a U.S. Army veteran, have two sons who are serving in the army, and am a lifetime member of the American Legion and past commander of a Legion Post. In addition, I have written a book about my father’s unit in World War II. It was while researching and writing that book that I realized that I would never meet a war hero, at least not anyone who would admit to being one.
I started working on the book “The Mortarmen” in 2001 I had only my father’s diary to work with. He had died in 1987 so I could not even question him to get more details. However, I learned that in the mid-nineties an association of the survivors of the 87th Chemical Mortar Battalion had been formed and the battalion records and some company records were available. I made copies of these and studied them carefully. I found that of a battalion of almost 1,000 men 18 had received the Silver Star, 103 had been awarded Bronze Stars for bravery, and 336 had been awarded Purple Hearts.
The battalion had landed on Utah Beach on D-Day and was in combat for 326 straight days. Sixty five soldiers in the 87th were killed and hundreds were wounded. After my initial research I started contacting and interviewing the unit survivors, and in 2004 I attended the final reunion of the men of the 87th in Baltimore. There were only eleven of them able to make it, but I was able to talk to them individually and as a group.
Some of the men I interviewed at the reunion, and both before and after, had won awards for heroism yet I couldn’t get them to talk about that. They all denied being heroes, but they gladly talked about their buddies who they all proclaimed were real heroes. I had run across this before with my own father. He was a 21 year old 1st Lieutenant on D-Day and as such Roy Connelly was one of the oldest members of the unit and was known as one of the “old guys”. This was because so many of these men were not technically men at all, but teenagers.
When we were growing up my brother and I were occasionally allowed to go through my Dad’s foot locker he had kept after the war. It contained many pictures he had taken and well as items captured from German soldiers. There was also a case containing his Bronze Star. He just referred to it as a medal he had received. He had other medals in the foot locker and he never talked much about them. Years later we learned that this medal was different and it was for valor. Eventually, we got him to tell us the story of how he had won it.
The 87th had been moving into a village that had supposedly been vacated by the Germans. However, the retreating Germans had not left yet and the battalion ran right into them. A fierce fire fight broke and the mortarmen suddenly found themselves fighting as infantry. It was absolute chaos and at one point my Dad saw two of the men under his command penned down behind some rubble in a street by a German machine gun crew firing from the second story of a nearby building.
It was just a matter of time before the men were killed so my father charged the building, dodging the enemy fire. He got to the wall of the building just under the window the fire was coming from. His back was to the wall and he could not step out without drawing enemy fire, so he does the only thing he can; he pulls a grenade from his belt, pulls the pin and throws the grenade back over his head toward the window.
It was an act of incredible bravery. If the grenade is on target, Dad would save the lives of two of his men. On the other hand, if the grenade misses the window, it will bounce back to my father’s feet and kill him instantly. Obviously, the grenade hit its mark and my father received the Bronze Star. Yet according to him, he was not a hero; “he was just doing his job.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that statement from America’s heroes. At my American Legion post you will hear many war stories because veterans will talk to each other, but not that often to others, even in their own families. However, I can’t remember any of them talking about their medals. They would just say they were doing their jobs and they mean it.
This humility is just one of the things I see in my fellow veterans. They took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and they don’t believe that oath ever goes away. They ask for very little in return for their sacrifices, and unfortunately they get even less than they deserve.
They are not just ignored by the government they defended they are labeled as potential domestic terrorists simply because they served. They are under assault by numerous federal agencies that seek to declare them incompetent to handle their own affairs and declare them too mentally ill to own firearms. They are denied not only decent medical care, but even the basic rights of all Americans to privacy and due process of law.
Instead the PC crowd has created a new class of “heroes” for the American people. I’m not buying it. An NBA player who announces that he is gay is not a hero and does not deserve a phone call from the President. Especially from a President who is effectively destroying the U.S. Military.
A young thug who commits a robbery in Ferguson, Mo and is killed while attacking a police officer is not a hero and doesn’t deserve to have three representatives from the White House attend his funeral. Especially since no one from the White House attended the funeral of American sniper Chris Kyle, the funeral of U.S. Army General Harold Greene who was killed in Afghanistan, or any of the funerals of the marines and sailor killed by a terrorist in Chattanooga.
In addition, a man who decides he really wants to be a woman and starts wearing dresses does not deserve a heroism award from a major television network. Jason Collins, Michael Brown, and Bruce Jenner never put their lives on the line by joining the military and fighting for our country. They are not heroes and neither are the people at McDonald’s who demand $15.00 per hour for making burgers while the new recruits in the military work much more than 40 hours per week and are paid just over $8.00 per hour for risking their lives.
Compare $8.00 per hour with the millions demanded by professional athletes who work for approximately six months a year. Some of them earn millions more with product endorsements. They are proclaimed as heroes and receive all types of rewards and accolades if they win a championship for their team. When American veterans win a battle or even a war, they are told to be quiet and go away into obscurity. Military members may be honored at half time of an NFL game, but only if the military pays the teams for the privilege.
Veterans stand at attention and salute when the pledge is being said, while the First Lady of the United States sends text messages or mouths the words, “all this for that damned flag.” I know who the real heroes are in this country even though they won’t admit it. They are not overpaid sports stars, Hollywood or news media elitists, and certainly not the politicians who take the same oath to the Constitution as our soldiers do and then promptly ignore it and push for their own agenda. Our heroes are members of the military, military veterans, police officers, fire fighters and EMTs, and they deserve our respect and support.