By Lex On April 17, 2006
My grandmother, God rest her soul, was a packrat. I’ve a lovely collection of letters she wrote and received to and from her Richmond, Virginia correspondents while working as a nurse in San Francisco, back in 1903 – she would have been just 28 years old at the time. I ran across just them in a box just the other day, and was fascinated – here was not the elderly lady dying from complications of diabetes that I know only in dim flashes of childhood memory, but a young, vital, active woman a very long way from home, in what was still very much a frontier town. Accustomed as I am to the modern day ephmera of SMS text messages, emails and even weblogs, I was struck by the beautiful penmanship, and genteel expression of even mundane sentiments – life moved much more slowly then. These letters offer a strangely compelling insight into a very different place and time.
As do her clippings from the daily journals during the Second World War. It must have been clear to her, as it was to all of her generation, that they were living through the most significant events that any of them would ever witness. She sought to preserve those newspapers, perhaps out of some sort of reverence for the scale of the undertaking, perhaps to later puzzle it out with her two sons when they returned. Two sons who were overseas fighting the war – one as a merchant marine sailor making the hard passage to Murmansk, the other as a frontline Army surgeon in Africa, Italy and France.
But the fascinating thing to me was the tone of those headlines and articles: “Foe smashed in Belgium – reeling under allied onslaught,” read one. “Jap fleet pursued, burning , sunk at Midway” exulted another. You had the feeling that the newsmen knew that we were in a war. You had a feeling that they knew who the enemy was. You got the sense that, in this conflict between the imperfect democracies and the near-perfect tyrannies, they hoped we’d win.
We will not today, finally and to everyone’s satisfaction create a unified narrative on just how well or poorly the GWOT is progressing in the field, far less on whether or if we should have prosecuted it in just the way that we have. But we can, I think, at least agree that there are hundreds of thousands of young people serving their country to the very best of their ability in areas so dangerous as to create many a sleepless night for those who love them best. They are our new, “greatest generation” and we should be hearing a great deal more about them then we have been.
San Diego Union-Tribune Insight editor Robert Caldwell notes – not for the first time – an “interesting” disparity with the way that media coverage of the individuals serving in Iraq and Afghanistan:
The Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group that monitors television news, complained last fall, for example, that the major television networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) devoted only eight stories from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, 2005, reporting on the heroism of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. By contrast, the networks devoted 79 stories during this same period to instances of alleged mistakes or misconduct by U.S. military forces.
This imbalance – more precisely, bias – can only be called shameful. The bravery and devotion to duty demonstrated on a daily basis by tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women, volunteers all, who put their lives on the line get short shrift, eclipsed by a drumbeat of negative coverage.
Too true, and hat’s off to Mr. Caldwell for noticing. And, in his own small way, doing his best to recognize their contributions. He starts with the narrative of Sgt. Paul R. Smith, who won the only Congressional Medal of Honor to be awarded from either campaign – posthumously:
On April 3, 2003, Smith and his task force were at Baghdad International Airport when they were suddenly attacked by hundreds of enemy troops from Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guard. Smith quickly organized a defense and personally engaged the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons. He then rescued three wounded Americans from an armored personnel carrier wrecked by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Realizing that the enemy attack was threatening to overrun more than 100 American soldiers, Smith climbed atop an armored vehicle under a hail of Iraqi fire and manned its .50-caliber machine gun. Firing constantly from his exposed position, he covered the evacuation of more wounded Americans, killed at least 50 of the attackers and broke the enemy assault. He was mortally wounded by a bullet to the throat. Smith’s Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration for valor, was the first and to date only one given in the Iraq war.
His story, as well as that of Marine Staff Sargeant Anthony Viggiani (Navy Cross), Marine Captain Joshua Glover (Silver Star), Army Sargeant Leigh Hester (Silver Star) and the rest are all no doubt familiar tales to milblog readers. Cudos again to Caldwell and the San Diego Union-Tribune for making them available to everyone else.