Saluting America’s True Heroes

Susan Page
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Wednesday - September 30, 2009
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“The Solemn Pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

-President Lincoln, etched below the statue of Columbia at the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl

The Emmy Awards and the National POW/MIA Recognition ceremony at Punchbowl came on the same weekend. One garnered a huge celebrity audience and TV viewers, the other a smattering of mostly military servicemen and women, active and retirees, and their families.

The contrast in the two events says much about our culture.

There are now 38 celebrity awards shows per year on television; Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Grammy, MTV, Golden Globe, People’s Choice, Country Music, and 30 more guaranteed to include hours of tributes, applause and lots of near-naked women with large “jewelry.” The format is predictable. Presenters say how “amaaaazing” each awardee is, and before the show is over they, too, will be gushed over.


People in show biz love being gushed over unlike our real heroes who don’t. In fact, they prefer no attention other than a decent grade from their superior and the respect of their peers. Instead of seeking recognition, the former Vietnam POWs attending the POW/MIA ceremony at Punchbowl were there to honor the missing, those who didn’t come back. What a different mindset.

Celebrity worship isn’t new. Neither is forgetting our military troops until our safety is really on the line, like on 9/11. It’s an age-old behavior, and what Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Tommy” is about:

While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,

But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind,

There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,

O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.

I thought, as I sat at Punchbowl that Friday morning, that these ceremonies are more often like preaching to the choir: service men and women honoring their own. And that’s a shame. If only teachers and their students could witness this homage to the captured and missing from past wars, it could help personalize freedom’s steep price.

Since WWII, 87,000 from our military ranks are still missing - bodies not recovered - in far-flung fields of combat. We have missing in Iraq and a POW captured June 30 and held by the Taliban. There is the ultimate sacrifice of more than 500,000 men (and a growing number of women), dying for our right to be apathetic. And the tens of thousands of casualties, some with traumatic brain injuries, others missing limbs, and many suffering the emotional distress of their experience (PTSD), live but are forever changed. A thousand TV awards shows wouldn’t be enough.

Freedom is only possible when there is security. Ask the Iraqis. So why aren’t those who secure our nation as well-known as the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts or a Yankees pitcher? Who knows? But without fanfare recruits have kept signing up steadily since 9/11 - not because of class, race or socio-economic needs, but from a desire to serve their country. An exhaustive Heritage Foundation study using data from the Defense Manpower Data Center found:

Enlisted recruits in 2006-07 came primarily from middle-class and upper-middle-class backgrounds. The same is true of the officer corps.

Only 11 percent of enlisted recruits in 2007 came from the poorest one-fifth of neighborhoods, while 25 percent came from the wealthiest, with a higher percentage in the ROTC program.

American soldiers are more educated than their civilian peers. Just over 1 percent of enlisted personnel lack a high school diploma, versus 21 percent of non military men 18-24 years old.

Minorities are not over-represented in military service.

Out of approximately 54 million men and 54 million women who are eligible to serve in the U.S. military, only 1.45 million men and women (combined) between 17 and 45 serve on active duty and 1.45 million in the reserves.

Acts of not only courage, but kindness by our military in Iraq and Afghanistan are routinely overlooked by a media dedicated to identifying our great nation with the lowest common denominator among us. It just takes a little effort on our part to discover heroes. Go to Punchbowl and look at the 10 Courts of the Missing and the 28,778 names there. Go to to see what the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment is doing in Afghanistan. Check out some of the YouTube videos from the front lines.

Winston Churchill, during the Battle of Britain, said, Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Am I worthy of the sacrifice of our few?

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