In two weeks, three courageous men will receive Medals of Honor they earned years ago.
On the 15th of September, President Obama will award the Congressional Medal of Honor to three former soldiers: Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins, Specialist Donald P. Sloat, and First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing. Of the three, SPC Sloat’s action was the most recent: on January 17, 1970, he jumped on a grenade to protect the rest of his squad and was killed by the blast.
That date isn’t a mistake. SPC Sloat became a hero while deployed to Vietnam.
CSM Adkins also earned his Medal in Vietnam. From March 9 to 12, 1966, he repeatedly distinguished himself when his Special Forces detachment was attacked by Viet Cong forces. First, he ran through enemy mortar fire to rescue wounded comrades; then he near-singlehandedly covered his buddies’ retreat with his rifle and a mortar; then he led the survivors of his unit through the jungle for three days, pursued by VC, until they could be rescued by American forces. CSM Adkins survived the war and retired in 1978, and is the only one of the three recipients still living.
1LT Cushing–more appropriately, 1st Lt. Cushing, as he certainly never saw it abbreviated 1LT–may be the most remarkable of the three recipients. Lieutenant Cushing and his six-gun artillery battery endured an artillery barrage that knocked out four of their guns and wounded him severely, but rather than allowing his command to be pulled to the rear and out of the fight, he insisted on advancing his remaining guns and joining in. His actions slowed the enemy advance until they closed to within 100 yards of his position, when he was shot and killed.
Cushing became a hero on July 3, 1863. At the Battle of Gettysburg. The enemy closing on his position was Pickett’s Division of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Cushing’s descendants will receive the Medal he earned in the Civil War.
All three of these men certainly deserve their Medals, deserved them decades ago, in fact. These awards stand testament not only to their own courage, but to the courage and tenacity of those who came after and fought on their behalf. It’s a testament to the lawmakers who were willing to set aside their projects for a time to see these men recognized as they deserve.
But that’s not what occurred to me when I first read about these awards. What occurred to me was that none of these men, I’d bet, gave a moment to thoughts of recognition. None of them stopped to think I bet I get the Medal of Honor for this. Their thoughts were much more immediate: these men beside me are my friends, and I don’t want to see them dead. Let me do what I can to save them.
This is how ordinary people become heroes. And this is why there’s no expiration date on heroism.
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