While Audie Murphy almost immediately comes to mind when we think of a hero soldier and, yes, he lies at Arlington. I don’t believe many are aware of Robert Howard, many say he is actually the most decorated soldier in American history. However, if you dig into it and just give it a little thought, it is not much of a surprise to learn that the most decorated is General Douglas MacArthur.
While it is well and good to remember these veterans take some time to read about those who didn’t get credit for their heroism until decades after their death. Also, remember that all of the previously mentioned became veterans via retirement. Memorial Day is not a day of remembrance for those who came home but for those who never took the uniform off. I drafted this hoping to find a post-mortem hero. An “unknown”.
While Sgt. Henry Johnson did survive WWI, his wounds were so severe he was unable to return to work as a porter after the war. This black man, in a black unit, fought heroically and was given the French Croix de Guerre Avec Palme, France’s highest award for valor. He was the first American to receive such an honor. (Audie Murph would also receive this award several times for WWII service.)
In the book, Rank and File: True Stories of the Great War, Theodore Roosevelt has this to say “(SGT Johnson was) one of the five bravest American soldiers in the war.” And, for those of you who are unaware, Roosevelt was very hostile and negative when it came to black soldiers. (In Rough Riders he stated “No troops could have behaved better than the colored soldiers had behaved so far; but they are, of course peculiarly dependent upon their white officers,”) It is rumored he said that the only way to stop them (blacks) from retreating was to pull his pistol.
The real tragedy here is that we say we want to remember but the good old US government waited until 1996 to award SGT Johnson the Purple Heart, in 2002 the Distinguished Service Cross, and, finally the U.S. Army Medal of Honor in 2015. It was a very humbling experience to learn about this hero. I mean I do suffer from my service but I can not imagine how this man could have possibly felt. Recognized by another country and, more or less having to wait until the next century to be honored.
Yes, remember our fallen. (Keep in mind that these three heroes all made it home.) It is too easy to forget that for every hero you read about, there are probably thousands who fought just as hard, bled just as red, and were never recognized. There are also many more that while not bloodied and beaten sacrificed much in terms of sleep and work. Consider the cooks who live in the mess tent and sleep in shifts just to keep everyone fed. Heck, I even appreciate the soldier that stocked the paper in the shit house, after a few days in the field having to use leaves, you would too.
Yes, go to your Great Uncle’s, the one who was stuck in the Battle of the Bulge. Certainly, it is right but take a couple of minutes today and offer thanks to all those who went and we still don’t know of and recognize.