Whatever happened to war heroes ? As a small boy I remember watching over and over with rapt attention the movie ‘To Hell and Back’, the story of Audie Murphy, America's most decorated hero of World War II. Feeding the imagination of a small boy with visions of heroic deeds and medals on my chest, countless times I went on to storm the beaches of Normandy in my own back yard. In my childish mind I fought through the jungles of Burma with Merrill's Marauders and defeated the Japanese. Whether it was flying alongside Pappy Boyington's Black Sheep in the Pacific, or in the jungles of Guadalcanal with Medal of Honor winner John Basilone by my side, I helped defeat America’s enemies countless times as a boy growing up.
When I was young I remember hearing the stories of American war heroes being told to me by my father and uncles. To me people like Audie Murphy, John Basilone, and Pappy Boyington were people I wanted to emulate. Someone to grow up and be like. That they might have faults or shortcomings as human beings was a concept far beyond the thought processes of a small boy. What mattered to me was that they fought, and sometimes died heroically on the field of battle. Fighting on the side of good against evil. That still matters to me much more than any personal failings they might have had.
When birthdays and Christmas came along I frantically tore open the wrapped packages rejoicing over the bag full of plastic soldiers, toy tanks, and jeeps contained within. Beneath the bed in my room I kept all my military equipment. My small plastic helmet was neatly stowed within easy reach. The toy Tommy Gun cleaned, well oiled, and ready for action. And water balloon hand grenades by the dozen. All the gear that a young boy needed to wage battle against our foes.
I like to think that I grew up to be a normal, well adjusted adult, suffering not from PTSD as a result of the wars and battles of my youth. Playing ‘Soldier’ didn’t really seem to have any adverse effect on me at all. Unfortunately the heroes of my youth haven’t fared as well over the years.
It seems that war heroes just don’t have a place in our society anymore. Serving your country, and in some cases making the ultimate sacrifice just isn’t in vogue. It doesn’t fit into the politically correct world in which we live. Hollywood chooses to portray soldiers nowadays as psychopaths and maniacal killers reminiscent of the invading Mongol hordes of old. The movie industry seeks out and magnifies the negative when dealing with historic military figures. Focusing on their failings and dark side, Hollywood releases films that make little money, but certainly project the social and political agenda that is more important to them.
In the heat of politics some of our own elected officials have compared our current crop of war heroes to many of the worst enemies of our past, with little regard to how that might play to the brave men and women fighting and dying daily on our behalf. It would seem that political expediency trumps support for the troops nowadays in Washington, though some politicians will still try to pay lip service in supporting the Armed Forces.
Nowadays it seems to be a real hero you have to have done some sort of volunteer work. Like opening a homeless shelter, counseling battered women, or involvement with some other social endeavor. Certainly worthy of recognition and appreciation, but worthy of the title ‘Hero’ ? I’m not sure that it fits.
Recently when I asked a college student if they knew who Audie Murphy was they hadn’t a clue. I got answers ranging from “a comedian” to “Isn’t he running for some office or something ?”. And when I told them the story of his service in World War II, and the acts he performed which earned him the Medal of Honor, they responded “Cool”, and then moved on. There was no real interest in who Audie Murphy was, or in the courage displayed by one of America’s greatest war heroes.
What has happened to us ?
I think maybe it’s time for our politically correct, warm and fuzzy society to let our kids play ‘Soldier’ again. They need to learn about people like Audie Murphy, John Basilone, and Pappy Boyington. They need to understand and appreciate that self-sacrifice has value in our society. It’s not ‘all about me’ that matters. Real Americans have sacrificed and died throughout our history and are still doing so now, so that the clueless college students, as well as those old enough to remember but who seem to have forgotten, can all pursue the more and more elusive American dream.
So maybe buying toy soldiers, tanks, and Tommy Guns for our kids isn’t such a bad thing after all. Perhaps they’ll be like many from my generation who grew up playing ‘Soldier’, ‘Cops and Robbers’, and Cowboys and Indians’, well adjusted and unaffected by all the ‘gun battles’ fought as a child. And just maybe one day your Kids will tell their children about Audie Murphy, John Basilone, and Pappy Boyington. And maybe even who Leroy Petry, Salvatore Giunta, and Dakota Meyer were.
And maybe they’ll understand that heroism matters.