Heroes and Medals

I wrote a poem once entitled "Heroes" where I said there were no heroes in war. Forty years later I can still say that with personal authority.

Ask a Marine, Soldier, Sailor, or Airman who has been decorated, and to a man or woman, they will tell you that the medal is because of the people they served with. No one ever takes personal accolades for the medals on their chest.

In combat, acts of heroism were commonplace, and if every act were commended, then each and every one in uniform would be wearing medals. It is, simply, a basic truth all who served in combat know.

Enlisted personnel in Vietnam were not allowed to write up citations for acts of bravery. Those acts had to be witnessed by a commissioned officer and then countersigned by enlisted personnel who witnessed the act as well. Today, small units run combat patrols, from a squad of thirteen down to a fireteam of four. There are generally no commissioned officers with such small units, so heroic acts go unrecognized except by the men and women on such a small unit patrol. That means no medal for bravery. However, more importantly, it is recognized by those who fought alongside you. The gratitude and admiration of those "low ranking" individuals is more important than all the citations in the world!

So many times in my tour through the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam did I see incredible acts of bravery and selfless heroism. We all did. We watched young men die, and we listened to them saying with their last breaths to "tell….I love her, him, them."

All the geopolitical reasons for war are lost when the first round comes in. The real reason for acting with disregard for one's own life in war is love; nothing more. Love. The people serving with you mean more than your family or self. Only those who have been there will ever know the depth of that love.

Medals on a uniform are no more than this: a colorful decoration that shows you loved…and were seen doing it.

Joe Labriola, former Sergeant, USMC