Honoring Real Heroes

Mark Tapson, a Hollywood-based writer and screenwriter, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He focuses on the politics of popular culture.


pittsFrom a pop culture point of view, our perspective on heroes and bravery tends to be skewed toward the superficial. The news media fall all over themselves to celebrate the “heroism” of, for example, a superstar athlete who overcomes adversity or a Hollywood actress who comes out as gay; those names and faces are splashed across the news and they are lauded even by the President. Meanwhile, those in our own military whom we honor for sacrificing life and limb in service to others – the truest definition of heroism – remain largely unrecognized by the public. Since FrontPage is an outlet of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and our soldiers are in no small measure responsible for that freedom, it seems appropriate to bring some attention here to a few real heroes who recently made the news.

It was announced Monday that the Medal of Honor will be bestowed upon former Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts, 28, for his actions July 13, 2008 in the fierce battle of Wanat in Afghanistan. As the Army Times reports, just before sunrise, a volley of rocket-propelled grenades pounded his Observation Post [OP]. For 90 minutes, Pitts and his fellow paratroopers fought off more than 200 enemy fighters. His actions were described as “decisive” by the battalion commander at the time: “He prevented the enemy from overrunning the OP and thus saved lives and prevented the loss or capture of fallen and wounded paratroopers.”

“Even though he damn near got himself killed, he managed to keep his composure and keep fighting and do what he was supposed to do,” the commander said. “His weapon would go down and he’d get another one and continue to fight. He was throwing grenades at [the enemy] and throwing rocks at them to get them to jump out from behind cover.”

With a proper hero’s humility, Pitts takes no credit himself but honored his brothers-in-arms: “Valor was everywhere,” he said. “Everybody just did what they needed to do, and a lot of it was because of the relationships we had. We were very close.” He views the medal as a memorial to the nine soldiers who gave their lives at Wanat that day: “I try to think about the guys we lost and try to do my best to honor them and the gift they gave me. I hate the word ‘hero.’ But I feel very fortunate when I look at the guys I served with. They’re my heroes. It was the honor of my lifetime to serve with them.”

From that same battalion, former Sgt. Kyle White received the Medal of Honor last month for his bravery in November, 2007. Caught in an ambush in Afghanistan, says the Army Times, White repeatedly ran a “gauntlet of enemy fire to get to the wounded and fallen.” When the shooting stopped and night fell, White, only 20 at the time, tended to a wounded comrade, called in radio reports, directed security and guided in air support until the wounded and dead were evacuated. “I do not consider myself a hero,” he said prior to his White House ceremony, echoing the words of Sgt. Pitts. “To me, the real heroes are the ones I fought with that day.”

The late Sgt. Alwyn Cashe was awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor, in recognition for his heroic actions in Samarra, Iraq on Oct. 17, 2005, when his vehicle hit an IED. The wounded Cashe, his uniform burned away except for boots, body armor and helmet, crawled back into the wreckage again and again, pulling out all six of his comrades. All were evacuated back to the U.S. alive, although three later succumbed to their wounds – as did Cashe, from 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns over more than 70 percent of his body. He didn’t receive the Medal of Honor because the full details of his actions were unclear at the time, but there is a movement underway to upgrade him to that award. “I know not a lot of us survived,” said one survivor, “but maybe none of us would have survived if not for him.”

Countless other American warriors may be less decorated but nonetheless continue to give above and beyond the call of duty. Some don’t come home alive, like Staff Sgt. David Stewart, 34, Lance Cpl. Brandon Garabrandt, 19, and Lance Cpl. Adam Wolff, 25, three Marines who died last Friday in combat operations in Afghanistan. The ones who come home wounded tend to soldier on, if you’ll pardon the pun, without complaint, which makes the recent revelations of Veterans Administration neglect of wounded vets that much more shameful and unconscionable.

Occasionally our entertainment media throw a deserved spotlight on our military, such as with the outstanding movie Lone Survivor, based on Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s harrowing book of the same name, or the Super Bowl commercial from Budweiser this year which celebrated a soldier’s return home.

But more often than not we’re treated to displays in the culture like these: egomaniac rapper Kanye West has the nerve to compare his stage performances to the risks of military service; tone-deaf celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow calls internet attacks on her the “bloody, dehumanizing” equivalent of war; and earlier this year in a segment called “Heroes and Zeroes” on his titular show, MSNBC lightweight Ronan Farrow praised Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s disgusting Girls, for her heroic nudity. You can’t degrade the meaning and significance of heroism much further than that.

In a perfect world, men like the ones I noted above would be household names like – or better yet, instead of – Kanye West or Gwyneth Paltrow. Not that our heroes would ever be comfortable with such recognition, because selfless service is part and parcel of a hero’s character. The least we can do is stop applying the word “hero” casually and reserve it for those who have earned it, sometimes with their lives.

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  • verneoz

    Mr. Tapson makes an excellent point. I have been noticing for years the absence of any mention of our heroes that have served in Iraq & Afghanistan. About 3 years ago, a ceremony was held at the JFK Special Warfare Center, Fort Bragg, NC to honor 6 Green Berets with Silver Stars. They were recognized for heroism displayed during a combat engagement in Afghanistan with an enemy force far superior in numbers. I looked for a mention of this ceremony in the news media…..NOTHING. Our news media consider themselves “internationalists.” This means they do not choose sides. They don’t consider themselves Americans first.

  • Wolfthatknowsall

    It never fails to amaze me at what men will do in combat.

    When I was in Vietnam, my heroes were the draftees who did not run to Canada. These guys were ripped from their homes, their families, their jobs, and their lives, and sent to the other side of the world. They served, sometimes reluctantly, and sometimes with heroism.

    And what is heroism but doing something that five minutes before would have been unthinkable, but the circumstances require. I’m sure that Alvin York didn’t set out to earn the Medal of Honor, and to have a home bought for him by the State of Tennessee. He did what had to be done. The same could be said of Audie Murphy, whose size, looks, and demeanor did not mark him as a “hero”. But he did what had to be done, at the moment.

    I spent my time in country with an amazingly funny guy with red hair and freckles, and an infectious smile. His name was Donald Smith, and … of course … everyone called him “Smitty”. He was my best friend, and my spotter.

    In the run-up to what came to be known as “Hamburger Hill”, he was killed when a 152mm artillery shell landed about ten feet away from us, as we walked in our forward base. I was blown by 80 lbs of high explosive through the air, and landed about 20 feet away (I was unconscious for some time, and my inner ears were hanging outside of ears).

    But Smitty? He was hit by a large piece of shrapnel, and his body was torn in two (the upper half landed in a tree, about 50 feet away from us).

    I was out of the Army in the Mayo Clinic where a surgeon with God-given skill restored my inner ear, and eardrums (though I still use hearing aids). But Smitty lost the next 46 years of his life.

    What is a hero? A hero is the guy who “puts his a** in the grass”, and does what he has to do. Medals are insignificant, but they are welcomed and appreciated, when they come. In the final analysis, a man goes to a foreign field with many motivations … to fight for his country, to get some chestful of medals, perhaps, and come back home to get all the girls … but in the end, he fights for those men around them.

    A military “hero” is merely someone who serves …

  • Habbgun

    Any surprise that we have a President whose biggest accomplishment is community activism and a media that needs to change the definition of hero?

    We have a generation that could be the greatest generation of our time. A whole generation that was derided as video game players and victims of public education but instead reacted as brave as anyone could have after 9/11. They could be the political leaders of the future. The ones who met Jihad head on and could use their experience in civilian life to show how to honorably and humanely resist. That won’t happen. Our corrupt machine politicians need to be protected. Our media celebrated so that it can protect the political class. Its a shame but not shocking.

  • RetiredMilitarytoo

    What I have seen, is something that I have watched since October of Obama’s third year in office. That October the Afghanistan KIA’s under Obama passed the Afghanistan KIA’s under Bush … in the EIGHT years Bush was CinC. Obama dropped all most all reference about KIA’s in AF as of that October. Some time in the following 18 months the Obama KIA’s tripled those under Bush. A very few MSM pukes have covered this information.

    My feelings of why Obama wants out of AF is that because the rate KIA’a are climbing under his “command”. At the present rate, Obama’s KIA’s will soon pass the numbers of those troops that died under Bush in Afghanistan AND Iraq. He will not allow this to happen, if there is anyway to stop it, or lie about it.

    Funny, the only time that comes to my mind when Obama played the role of CinC since the October 2011 date, was when he presented the Medal of Honer recently, to Marine Corps Corporal William “Kyle” Carpenter on June 19, 2014 .

    Obama presented the MOH to several military hero’s. I think most of the troops, other than Corporal Carpender, received their metals for action that took place before Obama took office.

    To save Obama’s role as a competent leader, Afghanistan and Benghazi have been placed in the same dark hole.

  • meanpeoplesuck

    Funny reading articles by people like Mark Tapson, who never served, tut-tutting about who is a hero and who isn’t. Typical RepubliNaziTard armchair chickenhawks.

    • Drakken

      So please explain to the rest of us where, when and what branch you served in? I am absolutely sure that you will enlighten the rest of us. Only silly progressives like you swallow.

    • mo100

      meanpeoplesuck? Given what you’ve posted here how would you describe yourself? Seems pretty mean spirited to question the writings of somebody who wants to honour real heroes. Anyway, what are you saying exactly:-
      A) Unless you’ve had first hand experience of a particular subject or unless you’re somebody that shares your vile and repugnant ideology you’re not qualified to comment?
      or
      B) You believe that Gwyneth Paltrow is more worthy of being honoured than people who actually risk their lives protecting the continued miserable existence of people like you?
      Please return when the reverse lobotomy procedure has been carried out.

    • DJohnson

      That’s so funny! I think that same way about Obama every single time I see him place a Medal around the neck of one of these living, breathing, real life heroes! Here is a man, Obama, who grew up in Hawaii going to an exclusive, private school along with the children of our military members, and he loathed them because of what they were. He ultimately never served this great country, either. And now he has to fake his appreciation of their service for the camera because it’s his job. Poor guy!