Tuesday, March 24, 2009

America's Heroes

I have previously served on ships named for great American Naval Officers, Bainbridge, Ingersoll, and Nimitz, and ships named for historic battles, Lake Erie and Port Royal. Of course, I currently have the pleasure to command a warship which bears the callsign of a great American warrior and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Marine Sergeant Freddy Gonzalez. I will always remember the day, I learned I was to command Gonzalez. I was working on the Joint Staff in a Pentagon office with officers from representing every military Service. As soon as I announced the name of my future ship, the Marine Corps Officer in our office immediately told me all about Freddy Gonzalez. He didn't have to look anything up on the internet. He just knew. I've always admired that about Marines.

I got an email the other day from that same Marine and thinking about his own personal knowledge of American heroes and Medal of Honor recipients made me think of an article which has been making it's way around the internet recently. I copied it below with an accompanying link (make sure you see the link - it will give chance to pause) for Gonzalez family and friends and any readers of our Fighting Freddy blog. I know I already have links to Freddy's Congressional Medal of Honor Citation on the blog but I added his own citation at the end. In concert with the excellent article below, when it comes to real American heroes, we should all pause to read their citations, over and over again. - Captain
Who Are America's Heroes? http://www.defenselink.mil/home/features/2009/0309_moh/presentation.html
By Donna Miles American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2009—The challenge issued by a flight attendant during a recent commercial air flight seemed innocuous enough: Name just one of the five Medal of Honor recipients from the current engagements in Afghanistan or Iraq, and get a free drink coupon. But the passengers’ response – more specifically, the inability of all but just one to respond – revealed how little the average American knows about its military heroes.

Bombarded by superhero lore almost from birth, many Americans grow to revere fictional heroes as well as sports and celebrity icons. But silence descended over the cabin of a flight bound from Jacksonville, Fla., to Baltimore when the conversation turned to those who had earned the nation’s highest honor for valor – even when a free cocktail hung in the balance. Dale Shelton, an Annapolis, Md., resident who served five years as a Navy intelligence specialist, was the only passenger to press the button over his seat to beckon the attendant. Shelton’s response: Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, the first Medal of Honor recipient in the global war on terror, and in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Smith received the highest military honor for valor posthumously on April 3, 2005, two years to the day after saving more than 100 soldiers in the battle for Baghdad’s airport. His young son and widow accepted the award on his behalf during a solemn White House ceremony. The flight attendant gave free drink coupons to Shelton, as well as his wife Jean and two other traveling companions. Then he returned to the crew area to announce over the intercom that only one person had correctly answered the challenge.

This time, the attendant offered a second challenge: name an American Idol winner. The cabin lit up like a pinball machine as 43 passengers scrambled to push their attendant call button. Passengers named various Idol winners. The attendant announced that he wasn’t going to award drink coupons for that answer, telling the passengers that "naming an Idol winner was not worth a free drink," Shelton recalled. "He concluded his announcement with the question: ‘What’s wrong with our country when out of 150 passengers, only one can name a Medal of Honor recipient, but 43 can name an American Idol winner?’"

Later during the flight, Shelton shared with the attendant his own frustration over "the current lack of appreciation of our military heroes." The attendant asked Shelton if he knew the names of the other four Medal of Honor receipts from the current military operations. Shelton said he was able to name three: Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor and Army Spc. Ross McGinnis. All were killed sacrificing themselves to protect their comrades during enemy attacks. Murphy, a Navy SEAL, died June 28, 2005, trying to save his team members during Operation Red Wing in Afghanistan. Monsoor, also a SEAL, died in Iraq Sept. 23, 2006, using his body to absorb a grenade blast that likely would have killed two nearby SEALs and several Iraqi soldiers. McGinnis died Dec. 4, 2006, after throwing himself on a hand grenade in Iraq to save four fellow soldiers when insurgents attacked their Humvee.

Shelton said he regretted that he had forgotten the name of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham. Dunham died April 15, 2004, using his body to shield fellow Marines in Iraq from a hand grenade. The flight attendant didn’t hold Shelton’s memory lapse against him. "He gave me all the remaining drink coupons he had in his possession and shook my hand," he said.

Congressional Medal of Honor - Freddy Gonzalez
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as platoon commander, 3d Platoon, Company A. On January 31, 1968, during the initial phase of Operation Hue City, Sgt. Gonzalez' unit was formed as a reaction force and deployed to Hue to relieve the pressure on the beleaguered city. While moving by truck convoy along Route No. 1, near the village of Lang Van Lrong, the marines received a heavy volume of enemy fire. Sgt. Gonzalez aggressively maneuvered the marines in his platoon, and directed their fire until the area was cleared of snipers. Immediately after crossing a river south of Hue, the column was again hit by intense enemy fire. One of the marines on top of a tank was wounded and fell to the ground in an exposed position. With complete disregard for his safety, Sgt. Gonzalez ran through the fire-swept area to the assistance of his injured comrade. He lifted him up and though receiving fragmentation wounds during the rescue, he carried the wounded marine to a covered position for treatment. Due to the increased volume and accuracy of enemy fire from a fortified machine gun bunker on the side of the road, the company was temporarily halted. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Sgt. Gonzalez exposed himself to the enemy fire and moved his platoon along the east side of a bordering rice paddy to a dike directly across from the bunker. Though fully aware of the danger involved, he moved to the fire-swept road and destroyed the hostile position with hand grenades. Although seriously wounded again on February 3, he steadfastly refused medical treatment and continued to supervise his men and lead the attack. On February 4, the enemy had again pinned the company down, inflicting heavy casualties with automatic weapons and rocket fire. Sgt. Gonzalez, utilizing a number of light antitank assault weapons, fearlessly moved from position to position firing numerous rounds at the heavily fortified enemy emplacements. He successfully knocked out a rocket position and suppressed much of the enemy fire before falling mortally wounded. The heroism, courage, and dynamic leadership displayed by Sgt. Gonzalez reflected great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps, and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

No comments: