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OPINION

Honoring America’s Heroes Is Last Bastion of Bipartisanship

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Pablo Martinez Monsivais

With increased threats toward the United States coming from Russia and China, America’s decades of relative peace may be at risk. It is times like these that Americans come to appreciate those who have fought and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country to preserve the freedoms we enjoy today. It is also times like these when Members of Congress from the two warring parties can put aside their differences to celebrate what all Americans have in common – a shared willingness to honor those who fought for our great nation.

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This Saturday, March 25, “National Medal of Honor Day,” the nation is marking the 160th anniversary of the awarding of the 1st Medal of Honor which was given by President Abraham Lincoln. The first Medal of Honor was presented by Lincoln back in 1863 and most recent was President Joe Biden earlier this month.  Early next week in D.C. at the Library of Congress a bipartisan group from Congress will attend a celebration of those who have received the Medal of Honor, hosted by the National Medal of Honor Museum. There are sixty-five living recipients of the medal, of which sixteen will be at the event next Monday, with about two dozen Members of Congress including Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). 

In July of last year, President Biden awarded the Medal of Honor to four recipients, one posthumous, who served during the Vietnam War. The recipients all went far beyond the call of duty and showed amazing valor in the face of grave danger. One was Dwight W. Birdwell whose unit stationed at Tan Son Nhut Airbase came under attack in January of 1968. His tank commander was incapacitated, and Birdwell leapt into action. According to the National Medal of Honor Museum, “under heavy enemy small-arms fire, Specialist Five Birdwell moved his tank commander to safety and fired the tank’s weapons at the enemy force,” then “he dismounted and continued fighting until wounded in his face and torso by enemy fire.” Birdwell refused to be evacuated and continued the fight to disrupt an enemy assault while wounded. 

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A second honoree, Major John J. Duffy, was wounded after an attack that killed his commander of the 11th Airborne Battalion in April of 1972. Duffy refused to be evacuated, even though twice wounded, and led an effort to call in airstrikes to help establish a landing zone for resupply aircraft. During that effort, he was wounded again. His unit was then attacked by a ground assault and Major Duffy spotted targets for artillery and gunship fire. Only after an evacuation did Duffy allow himself to be treated.

A third, Specialist Five Dennis M. Fujii, was a 21-year-old crew chief on a helicopter performing evacuation missions in Laos and South Vietnam. On a trip into Laos in February of 1971 his detachment came under heavy fire during a rescue mission. His helicopter was loaded with wounded when mortar fire disabled the helicopter stranding the medivac team and severely wounding two pilots. A second helicopter came to rescue the team. Fujii decided to stay to treat and protect the remaining wounded. He survived the night while administering first aid to the many injured. Fujii then helped direct air strikes against enemy troops until an American helicopter could rescue them. 

The fourth, Staff Sergeant Edward N. Kaneshiro, was on a search and destroy mission when attacked by North Vietnamese in December of 1966. He destroyed one enemy group with rifle fire and two more with grenades allowing his platoon to exit the village. He was declared missing in action and presumed deceased from small arms fire in March of 1967.

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These are merely four of the 3,516 recipients of the Medal of Honor. To receive the Medal of Honor a veteran must “distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity, rising a loss of life above and beyond the call of duty.” There are three circumstances that must be met during an act of valor including being engaged in action against an enemy of the U.S., in a military operation involving conflict, and serving with friendly foreign forces where the U.S. is not a belligerent party. 

The Medal of Honor heroes have inspired many to join the Armed Forces. The recipients include sixty-five living recipients and nineteen double recipients. The armed forces of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are all well represented with one member of the U.S. Coast Guard being a recipient too. The stories of heroism are amazing, and it is great to see that an organization will honor the memories of those lost and those still living who led by example.

Back in 2021, Congress unanimously approved legislation authorizing the creation of a National Medal of Honor Monument in Washington, D.C. With the endless infighting in Congress, it is also satisfying to know that the parties can put politics aside to honor the stories of the brave soldiers who fought for the ideas that underpin our beloved constitutional republic.

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