A Veteran’s View of the Medal of Honor

Representative Roger Williams of Texas has introduced legislation in congress for President Obama to award the Medal of Honor to Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, and this has shown me that we, as a nation, have lost our minds when it comes to saluting veterans. Williams, because he hasn’t served a single day in uniform, looks at the Medal of Honor as just another military award – albeit the highest one – and thus it should be awarded to Kyle, like it’s a piece of candy that should be handed out to whomever he deems fit. As a veteran, I see the Medal of Honor in a different light, and believe it should be preserved for those extraordinary acts of heroism it was designed to reflect.

Understand up front that I, in no way, am trying to devalue what Chris Kyle accomplished. He was a warrior, and a true American hero. But he was one of thousands of American heroes, none of whose actions rose to the level of the MOH. This isn’t about Chris Kyle. It’s about the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor is awarded for conspicuous gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. It is not a service award, and it’s most certainly not a popularity contest. It is a sacred honor, something every veteran – especially combat veterans – hold in high esteem. Awarding it because of a wave of popular hero worship sullies its very meaning, cheapening all who wear it, both living and deceased. It is probably the last true symbol in the United States that cannot be affected by politics, only by blood, fear, and heroism on the field of battle. In a world infatuated with American Idol, we shouldn’t desecrate this final token of pureness into a voting contest based on the current popularity of a particular veteran.

Given everything Chris Kyle sacrificed defending our nation – which is formidable, make no mistake – none of his acts rose to the level of the MOH. If it had, he would have been recommended for it by his chain of command, like he was for five Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars. There are legions of unsung veterans who contributed as much as Kyle. One, a personal friend of mine, and another sniper, started his war on terror providing overwatch on the first combat action in Afghanistan immediately following 9/11. From the mountains of the Shahi-Kot during Operation Anaconda (of Robert’s Ridge fame) to five tours in Iraq, he served time-and-time again. His name was Robert Horrigan, and he didn’t get a chance to write a book, because he was killed in action on an assault in Iraq, two weeks from rotating home and retiring from the military. He most certainly would say he shouldn’t receive the Medal of Honor. Looking at it starkly, without the lens of Clint Eastwood, if Chris Kyle had come home and not written a book, or had not been tragically murdered trying to help another veteran, none of this would even be discussed. We shouldn’t provide an award based on actions that have no bearing on the criteria required for receipt.

The sad, sickening aspect of this piece of legislation is that it immediately polarizes the issue around “Love of the Troops.” If you’re against awarding the MOH, you clearly are a scum-sucking, hippie, commie, military hater. Thus, everyone who has never served – which is about 99% of America – will jump on board with Facebook posts and tweets demanding that the MOH be awarded to Kyle. To do otherwise means spitting on those who served. This is incorrect. I might tell my daughter she can have ice cream if she cleans her room. When she doesn’t, I say no ice cream. This doesn’t mean I don’t love her. It means she didn’t do the actions necessary to be awarded ice cream.   Ask any veteran – alone, and away from the politics – and you’ll hear the opposite of what the civilians think. Awarding the MOH in this manner is precisely spitting on a legacy they hold dear. In an effort to show appreciation, the average civilian cheering on facebook is doing the opposite. And Chris Kyle, if he could, would say the same thing. It’s not about American Sniper. It’s about the Medal of Honor.

Sooner or later, someone is going to ask a true, living Medal of Honor recipient whether he believes Kyle deserves the award, and this is completely unfair. It places that man – a man who truly went above and beyond the call of duty in a hellish place – on the horns of a dilemma. He’ll either look like a selfish jerk or agree to something that deep down he doesn’t believe, which is a complete disservice.  He didn’t ask for that award.  He didn’t want to be the face of heroism.  He just is, because of a confluence of events, an innate courage that few on earth possess and an iron will that allowed him to survive in a combat action where he would have been called courageous for doing nothing but his job.  But he did, beyond what was called for.  Above and beyond.  And THAT is the Medal of Honor.

Charitably, I’ll say that Representative Williams has sponsored the legislation with true good will in his heart, wanting to honor Chris Kyle without understanding what he’s asking. Without realizing the tarnish he is placing on a sacred trust. It’ll be interesting to see if the new veterans in congress stick to what they know is right, or toss the honor they held in the military into the trash, succumbing to the popular winds as a way to curry favor.

Uncharitably, I’ll say he’s doing it for political pandering, gathering cheers for himself while painting anyone who refuses to sign on as “hating the troops”, and using that as a political weapon to further his goals.

Which not only sullies the Medal of Honor, but Chris Kyle’s legacy as well.

By |2015-02-27T18:01:17+00:00February 27th, 2015|Blog|8 Comments

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  1. Your Brother February 27, 2015 at 8:09 pm - Reply

    Well said and Well Written…

  2. Bob Wells February 28, 2015 at 2:33 am - Reply

    As a Former USAF medic who was fortunat to have 2 MOH recipients as patients, I heartily agree with you. The MOH has criteria that Chrs Kyle did not meet. Most of the citations I have read are for conspicuous gallantry above the call of duty, usually at great personal peril. I believe that he did his duty at personal risk, probbably worthy of a Navy Cross.

  3. Terry Keck LSC SCW/SS February 28, 2015 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    This might help some understand

    Q. What are the criteria for the Medal of Honor?
    In accordance with United States Code Title 10, Subtitle C, Part II, Chapter 567, The President may award, and present in the name of Congress, a medal of honor of appropriate design, with ribbons and appurtenances, to a person who, while a member of the naval service, distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty—

    (1) while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;

    (2) while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or

    (3) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.

    Note: Each Military Department (Army, Navy, Air Force) has its own particular entry in the USC. However, the criteria for each are identical.

    Full Definition of DISTINGUISH

    transitive verb

    1: to perceive a difference in : mentally separate

    Full Definition of CONSPICUOUS

    1 : attracting attention : striking

    Full Definition of GALLANTRY

    1: amorous attention or pursuit
    2: spirited and conspicuous bravery

    Full Definition of INTREPID

    1: characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance

  4. Mike March 5, 2015 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    I agree re: Chris Kyle.

    What baffles me is why Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter USMC and Cpl. Jonathan Yale USMC did not receive the MOH for their actions on April 22, 2008. Their heroism was captured on video and was remarkable.

    Semper Fi


    “Haerter and Yale, of 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., were guarding a checkpoint in Ramadi on April 22, 2008, when a large blue truck filled with explosives accelerated toward their post, making no attempt to stop. The two Marines opened fire on the truck, causing it to explode before it entered the Joint Security Station, which housed more than 50 Iraqi and U.S. troops. Haerter and Yale were killed in the blast, but the lives of the troops within the station were saved.”

  5. Richard Gilvey March 11, 2015 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Couldn’t agree more Brad. It takes courage to disagree with the masses.

  6. Mike March 16, 2015 at 5:22 am - Reply

    100% agree with you.

    Chris and I were friends, during the war, long before the book and movie. I can assure you, Chris would disagree with the Congressman’s proposal… and I’ll leave it at that.

    Chris was a Hero… no question about it, But he didn’t think he really deserved any of the medals he received… to him, he just did what was right and what needed to be done.

    Honor, integrity and doing what’s right were important to Chris. It was how he was raised.

    What Chris was most proud of, was knowing he might have saved lives.

  7. Ed Sjolin July 12, 2015 at 5:43 am - Reply

    I have known only one MOH holder in my 70 years. He was a dignified, one-armed, crossing guard at a local elementary school who received the award for actions in Nicaragua in the 30’s at the cost of his arm. His actions were much the same as Ralph H. Johnson’s but not at the cost of his life, as was Lcpl. Johnson’s. He was not a poseur and never mentioned the honor HE brought to the award but the other Marines that lived because of his gallantry and courage [ I will wager] never forgot him.

    Ed Sjolin

  8. Jim McElroy August 4, 2018 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Well Said.
    As 1 of the 99% that did not serve I believe that those that have been there are the ones to make that judgment. How can I have the data needed to suggest no less demand that someone has earned the right to an award more than someone else without me ever had the experience. I have had the Honor to get to know the family of One of the 2 Marines that “Mike mentioned” Jordan Hearter. From everything and everyone including a few of the Marines that they saved, as well as the security footage and General Kelly, who spoke of their courage and sacrifice, just 4 days after his own son was KIA, they were true american Heroes and went above and Beyond..U am also aware that there are thousands and thousands of our Men and Woman who also do things that put the lives of others before their own every day. I have had the Honor of meeting and talking with a couple of dozen Medal of Honor Recipients.And to a Person, they really are just like the gentleman Crossing Guard that Ed Spoke. simply People that did what they thought were right under extraordinary circumstance. Of those that the conversation came around to it, they all in different words but the same sentiment said some thing like, :I did not do anything my buddies did not or would not have done, and do not deserve this but where it with pride in their honor.
    I am Pretty Vocal on Standing for Veterans, the Military and First Res-ponders but I feel that the only people qualified to make the determination of what is Above and Beyond are those that were there.
    Thank you for your thoughfull, well spoken words

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