Saturday, February 13, 2010

Medal Inflation, Part 2

If you want to be entertained for hours and understand one reason why I met many soldiers who were upset about awarding Bronze Star Medals to people who were not in direct combat, then watch the 2001 HBO Miniseries "Band of Brothers." This eight-hour show chronicles Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, from training through D-Day through the end of World War 2.

If you look at the decorations received by this storied group of American soldiers, you will see the Bronze Star Medal was given for gallantry under fire. Every soldier I met who had watched the series remembered in particular when Easy Company, with less than 30 men, attacked a German anti-aircraft battery. The battery was dug in and protected by machine guns. Using fire and maneuver, the remnants of Easy Company that had just parachuted into Normandy attacked and destroyed the emplacement. The attack, led by then 1st Lt. Dick Winters of Lancaster, is still taught at the US Military Academy at West Point. Winters received the Distinguished Service Cross for leading the attack. Sgt. Donald Malarkey was Winter's NCOIC and fire team leader. Malarkey was awarded the Bronze Star. Malarkey got two additional Bronze Stars over the next year. Easy Company as a group fought in more battles than any member of the Normandy invasion force and Malarkey had the most time in the front lines of any soldier in Easy Company.

Many soldiers, as I wrote yesterday, are angry when they see someone who was essentially an administrator receive the same medal that Sgt. Malarkey received for his part in one of the single greatest small-unit actions in American military history.

The Bronze Star was the most resented award I heard about in Iraq, partly because of some of the people who received it never saw anything close to combat, and partly because it was often awarded to senior soldiers near the end of their careers--as in the case of the chaplain in the last post.

But there were also problems with lesser awards. I was firmly on both sides of Medal inflation in regard to the Army Commendation Medal. More on that in a future post.

The Philosopher of War and Terror and Politics: Hannah Arendt

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