As a combat veteran of an ancient war (Vietnam), I was stymied by a recent news report when I read about it. For those not aware of it, the United States Supreme Court is currently hearing an appeal concerning the Stolen Valor Act of 2005.
I have a couple of medals from that era, although I couldn’t EASILY put my hands on them even if I wanted to. And, while I’m not sure where, precisely, I know they’re in a dust-covered box deep in the bowels of that dungeon I call the “basement.”
I’m not going to rehash the matter’s details here. If you wish to read about the specifics of the current case before the Supreme Court, click here. Also, if you wish to read about the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, click here.
I fully understand the sincerity of intentions that drove the United States Congress to pass the Stolen Valor Act. It’s a grievous insult to all legitimate valorous medal holders whenever some phony “hero” claims to have been awarded one. However, I have a different take on the matter.
My father was a combat veteran of WWII. He made it back alive and well. He later died at the age of 42 as the result of an automobile accident.
About a year later, when my mother was able to clean out his belongings without breaking into sobs, she found a handmade wooden case under a pile of cardboard boxes in the bottom of his closet.
When she opened that wooden case, she found some memorabilia from his military days. The most accurate description for most of it was “souvenir.” But, buried under all of that, she found a small leather case that contained a Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster.
An oak leaf cluster on any military award indicates multiple awards. He had been wounded several times over the course of his combat exploits. I don’t know if my mother had known about his wounds. But, none of his children did. He NEVER talked about his days in combat.
I had seven uncles who saw combat during WWII. Three of them died in the process. The four who did make it back safely are all gone now. But, like my late father, NONE of them ever talked about their combat exploits.
The last of them died several years ago in his mid-70s. He was a combat Medic in the Pacific Theater. And, like the others, he NEVER talked about those horrible days.
But, in cleaning out his belongings several months after his death, my aunt found, tucked inside of a dilapidated cardboard box under a stack of other boxes, a small case containing a Silver Star and its accompanied citation.
I’m sure that my aunt had known about it, but none of his nieces and nephews knew about it. And, I seriously doubt that any of his friends or colleagues new about it, either.
My war—and it was never officially declared as such—was Vietnam. But, combat is combat! I know many fellow combat veterans of that era.
And distributed among our particular group of survivors are a few medals of valor, including a Legion of Merit, 2-Bronze Stars, a Silver Star, and several commendations for exemplary conduct during combat operations.
However, as was the case with our fathers and uncles, we rarely talk about this stuff among ourselves, and virtually NEVER in our daily interactions with others.
And, if we do talk about it amongst ourselves, it’s usually as matter of therapeutics as our membership dwindles from death. Our latest loss was 22-months ago.
Writers have been romanticizing mortal combat for centuries. But, not even the combatants, themselves, have been able to describe the totality of its emotional impact.
The human range of emotions is virtually limitless. Some of them—at least for me—are simply too tough to describe in words.
But, mortal combat has to rank in the top three simply because no one has found a way to describe the courage required to overcome numbing fear.
It’s relatively easy to describe the mechanics of combat: flying bullets, IEDs, ear-shattering explosions, the searing heat from hellacious raging fires, the agonizing sounds of human pain, and—more often than not—sheer bedlam.
But, none of this adequately describes combat’s soul. To describe THAT, one must be able to read what’s going on in a combatant’s guts and mind, which, at its worst is paralyzing horror; and, at its best… eye-glazing fear.
But, the ever-elusive task has always been trying to define some unique aura that puts the saturating horror of mortal combat in proper perspective.
Those that have been there see it clearly but can’t adequately describe it. Those that have never been there can’t even imagine it; they just think they can.
As I wrote above, I truly understand and empathize with legitimate members of the brotherhood of valor. However, a blanket criminalization of ALL “pretend” heroes isn’t going to stop it.
It’s most certainly righteous and worth the legal expense to send phonies to jail for “pretending” to have been combatant bad-asses just to con people out of money, land some lucrative job, get elected to some political office, or the pursuit of some other self-aggrandizing goal.
But, it’s another matter altogether to send some poor, intellectually anemic, sexually impotent, bar stool-inhabiting phony Rambo wannabe to jail for portending past combat valor while sopping up copious amounts of courage-juice at some bar.
A majority of both types end up getting caught. And, YES, it’s uniquely satisfying to watch a con-artist embarrassed beyond description PLUS landing some serious jail time. It just feels good to see this happen to criminal assholes.
But, the latter types are neither con-artists nor criminals. They’re poor shmucks suffering from a serious lack of self-esteem in desperate pursuit of being “a somebody” and, of course, possibly getting laid.
All of the legitimate members of the brotherhood of valor that I know look at such losers with rolling eyes and sheer pity, knowing all the while that such dweebs will NEVER be “somebodies;” and, they’re not likely to get laid, either.
Even if some women were to exercise the pinnacle of carnal mercy and let them get “lucky,” they probably wouldn’t be able to get it up, anyway! Talk about adding INSULT to injury!
Have a great week.
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. Email comments here.