This is about Medal of Honor (MOH) recipients and public memory. I'm writing this after an article on Audie Murphy got me thinking about the subject. Unfortunately, the image of the MOH is affected by movies like Forrest Gump, in which a dolt wins the MOH through a minor infantry action. This is not the way it happens. Usually, five live witnesses must certify the action before a recommendation for the award is forward for consideration.
The MOH is approved at the National Command Authority level. Less than 10% of those nominated ever receive the award; historically, 6-% of all recipients are killed in action performing these military feats of exceptional valor.
All MOH recipients must display selfless valor. There have been 3401 MOH's awarded since 1863. The last two medals were awarded to special forces troopers in Mogadishu, Somalia. This action is depicted in the book, Black Hawk Down. This movie portrays actual events and is not fiction. My research indicates Florida provided 22 MOH recipients. Thirteen of those were killed in action. The campaigns resulting in MOH's are the Civil War, Interim 1865-70 Indian Wars, Korean Campaign 1871, Spanish-American, Somoa, Phillipine Insurrection, China Relief (Boxer Rebellion), Phillipines 1911, Mexican and Hatian, Dominican, WWI, Hatian Campaign 1919, 2nd Nicaraguan Campaign, WWII, Korean War 1951, Vietnam, and Somalia. No MOH's were awarded in the Panama or Granada invasions. The part I find most inspiring regards the representation of foreign-born recipients. They include members from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Canada, Chile, China, Cuba, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany and Prussia, Greece, Holland, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Norway, Phillipine Islands, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Wales, West Indies, and Yugoslavia. This roster indicates a large percentage of foreign-born recipients, proving that America is without a doubt a melting pot during times of need, as well as comfort.
Seven persons have been awarded two MOH's.
With all this, how many people can name even one recipient from any major war? There are presently 149 living MOH recipients. Currently, MOH recipients must pay for their MOH license plates in Florida, and this state provides no tax breaks of any kind for recipients. Oddly, the federal government gives no tax breaks, either. In the introduction to the book, MOH Recipients, there is a statement: "Poor is the nation that has no heroes, but beleaguered is the nation that has and forgets them."
Recently a privately-funded MOH museum opened in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am brought to mind of the A. E. Housman poem, "To An Athlete Dying Young". In it, the townspeople laud the young athlete who has just won his laurels, but upon his death, there is no one to remember him. His worth lies in the rah rah good feelings he allows the people to feel vicariously via his victory. Are we not all guilty of this exploitive view of the hero, especially the actual ones?