Diary

Where do we get such men?

I’d like to take a few minutes out from the strum und drang of our approaching financial Apocalypse and the Daley-Emanuel (Rahm, not Jeff)-Blagojevich-Obama Axis and focus on my favorite subject: the American Soldier.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported on ten US Army Green Berets receiving the Silver Star following a small unit action in an extremely remote section of Afghanistan. Please take the time to read the story but this gives you a flavor.

Farther down the hill in the streambed, Master Sgt. Scott Ford, the team sergeant, was firing an M203 grenade launcher at the fighting positions, he recalled. An Afghan commando fired rocket-propelled grenades at the windows from which they were taking fire, while Howard shot rounds from a rocket launcher and recoilless rifle.

Ford, of Athens, Ohio, then moved up the mountain amid withering fire to aid Walton at his command position. The ferocity of the attack surprised him, as rounds ricocheted nearby every time he stuck his head out from behind a rock. “Typically they run out of ammo or start to manage their ammo, but . . . they held a sustained rate of fire for about six hours,” he said.

As Ford and Staff Sgt. John Wayne Walding returned fire, Walding was hit below his right knee. Ford turned and saw that the bullet “basically amputated his right leg right there on the battlefield.”

Walding, of Groesbeck, Tex., recalled: “I literally grabbed my boot and put it in my crotch, then got the boot laces and tied it to my thigh, so it would not flop around. There was about two inches of meat holding my leg on.” He put on a tourniquet, watching the blood flow out the stump to see when it was tight enough.

Then Walding tried to inject himself with morphine but accidentally used the wrong tip of the syringe and put the needle in this thumb, he later recalled. “My thumb felt great,” he said wryly, noting that throughout the incident he never lost consciousness. “My name is John Wayne,” he said.

Fifty years ago James Mitchner posed the question I used for the title of this story in his novel The Bridges at Toko-Ri,  in the 1954 film of the same name Frederic March as Admiral Tarrant has these lines. It was a different war at a different time. But there were a lot of similiarities. A president was fighting an unpopular but necessary war, the opposition, this would be my party, made, in my view, the war an issue to gain political advantage. Young men were called upon to do the impossible, whether at Chosen Reservoir, Chipyong-ni, Fallujah, or Shah-i-kot. And I suspect unless Obama turns out to have poltroonery that can be measured on the Richter Scale that the ultimate outcome will be similar.

I spent a good portion of my adult life in the company of these men (and admittedly a good portion of my childhood wanting to be one and a good portion of my life since then waxing maudlin over my loss). They aren’t Rhodes Scholars. They will always be Tommy Atkins to the left which will “support” them but not what they’re doing and haul them before federal grand juries when they return home. And I still don’t have an answer for Admiral Tarrant’s question: where do we get such men?