Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl escaping jail time for desertion is a national disgrace, and one that will de debated in the coming days. Brave men died looking for Bergdahl. The whole situation is just appalling. Yet, let’s look to an event that will honor our brave men and women in uniform.
The American Veterans Center, an organization dedicated to preserving and honoring the sacrifices of those who have served, will host its annual event saluting our veterans who have served from World War II to the present day. Former British Special Air Service soldier Bear Grylls hosted the event held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington D.C. on October 28.
“As a veteran of the British Special Forces, I know the strength and courage required of these men and women, who have risked their lives protecting their country and allies, he said in a statement. “The United States military has stood by the United Kingdom through some of the darkest times in world history, and together our men and women have worked side by side, and sacrificed so much to secure peace around the globe.”
The event also featured actor James Badge Dale of HBO’s The Pacific, AMC’s Rubicon, 13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, and recently Only the Brave, which detailed the Arizona-based Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting unit.
One of the highlights of the event was commemorating the Doolittle Raiders, who dropped bombs on Tokyo factories after the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor.
"He was the man of the hour, said Lt. Colonel Richard E. Cole about Jimmy Doolittle, who would eventually become a general in the U.S. Air Force. “At that time we would have followed him anywhere."
A significant amount of time was also devoted to honoring the veterans of the Battle of Midway, which some have called one of the most consequential, if not the most consequential, naval battle in history.
As the veterans were led onto the stage, the men were adamant that if it was possible for us to have lost the Pacific War had we not emerged victorious. They compared it to the Battle of Stalingrad in terms of importance, and that it’s an under appreciated victory.
The Tuskegee Airmen were also commemorated, with Lt. Col Alexander Jefferson, who was shot down and captured towards the end of the war. Sent to one of the POW camps for allied troops in Germany, Jefferson was not suspected of being a German spy among fellow prisoners due to his skin color, a point that drew laughter from the audience during the video of his story. Jefferson was quite adamant about how he felt about the country and his service.
This is the “best damn country in the world,” he said. “I saw Dachau, I saw the piles of dead bodies—to think we help defeat the most evil society, thank God we flown.”
When asked by Grylls what he would say to today’s young people, Jefferson knows a thing or two about struggling through life; he fought a war and faced racial discrimination. He said you have to have discipline in your life, have a direction, and have a purpose. Join the country and make it larger, get up off your knees and hustle.
Major Mary Jennings Hegar, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for her multiple tours in Afghanistan, reiterated Jefferson’s message, "Don't ever let someone tell you what you can and can't do. That's for you to decide."
His story, along with the Doolittle Raiders, the heroes of Midway, and the rest of the program, contained short videos narrated by Morgan Freeman, Ellie Kemper, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Mel Gibson Diane Lane, Mike Rowe, Liam Neeson, and Gary Sinise:
The Heroes of Midway – Veterans of the epic battle that turned the tide of World War II exactly 75 years ago. Narrated by Tom Cruise.
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Jefferson – Combat pilot with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American pilots in U.S. military history. Narrated by Morgan Freeman.
Father Emil Kapaun – The Catholic battlefield chaplain who did not carry a weapon, but was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of his fellow prisoners in their POW camp during the Korean War. Narrated by Ellie Kemper.
Major General Patrick Henry Brady – An air ambulance helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War personally responsible for saving more than 5,000 lives – friendly and enemy – and one of only two U.S. Army veterans of Vietnam to receive the Army’s two highest awards, the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. Narrated by Liam Neeson.
Sergeant First Class Michael Schlitz – U.S. Army Ranger gravely wounded in an IED attack in Iraq, whose inspiring recovery led him to become an advocate for fellow warriors to speak out on the scourge of suicide facing our veterans. Narrated by Gary Sinise.
Major Mary Jennings Hegar – U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard veteran of three tours to Afghanistan; one of six women to have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (the first being Amelia Earhart), and only the second to receive the award with Valor Device. Narrated by Diane Lane.
Captain Florent Groberg – An Immigrant to the U.S. as a child, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen and Army officer before being awarded the Medal of Honor for fighting off a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Narrated by Mel Gibson.
The Doolittle Raid & Lt. Colonel Richard E. Cole – Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot on the legendary Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942, and at 102 years old the last survivor of the 80 Doolittle Raiders. Narrated by Mike Rowe.
Chesley B. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger – U.S. Air Force fighter pilot veteran and hero of the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ emergency landing of U.S. Airways flight 1549 on January 15, 2009. Narrated by George Clooney.
Yes, Sully was at the event as well. He said, “During the 2008/9 financial meltdown, America felt like it needed a win and this event gave them hope." As for his miraculous landing on the Hudson that was detailed in the news and portrayed in the film Sully starring Tom Hanks, he explained that he’d “been making small deposits in the bank of experience and that day the balance was sufficient enough to make a withdrawal."
I’ll leave you with the words of Cpt. Florent Groberg, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for tackling a suicide bombe while on patrol in Afghanistan in 2012. Here’s the citation:
Captain Florent A. Groberg distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Personal Security Detachment Commander for Task Force Mountain Warrior, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Asadbad, Kunar Province, Afghanistan on August 8, 2012. On that day, Captain Groberg was leading a dismounted movement consisting of several senior leaders to include two brigade commanders, two battalion commanders, two command sergeants major, and an Afghanistan National Army brigade commander. As they approached the Provincial Governor’s compound, Captain Groberg observed an individual walking close to the formation. When the individual made an abrupt turn towards the formation, he noticed an abnormal bulge underneath the individual’s clothing. Selflessly placing himself in front of one of the brigade commanders, Captain Groberg rushed forward, using his body to push the suspect away from the formation. Simultaneously, he ordered another member of the security detail to assist with removing the suspect. At this time, Captain Groberg confirmed the bulge was a suicide vest and with complete disregard for his life, Captain Groberg again with the assistance of the other member of the security detail, physically pushed the suicide bomber away from the formation. Upon falling, the suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest outside the perimeter of the formation, killing four members of the formation and wounding numerous others. The blast from the first suicide bomber caused the suicide vest of a previously unnoticed second suicide bomber to detonate prematurely with minimal impact on the formation. Captain Groberg’s immediate actions to push the first suicide bomber away from the formation significantly minimized the impact of the coordinated suicide bombers’ attack on the formation, saving the lives of his comrades and several senior leaders. Captain Groberg’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty at the risk of life are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect credit upon himself, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the United States Army.
"I don't consider myself a hero. I consider myself a serviceman and a member of a team,” said Cpt. Groberg. “We've got to sacrifice. We live in the greatest country in the world. You've got to earn it, fight for it every single day."
You can see why so many Americans get upset when they see people disrespecting the flag, or taking a knee during the national anthem, which we have seen lately at sporting events. It’s not that they know these brave men and women personally, but every American understands their sacrifice.
The American Veterans Center’s American Valor: A Salute To Our Heroes event will be broadcast on Veterans Day weekend. Check your local listings.
Bonus: Members of the various branches of our armed forces sang their official march/hymn at the event.