Did you know that, during the Iraq war, the Bronze Star has been awarded 38,000 times for American GIs’ actions well above the expected performance of duty?
Not all of these medals were earned for unusual bravery, but let’s assume at least 1,000 of our troops demonstrated rare and unselfish courage to earn the Bronze Star. About 1,000 of the Bronze Stars were awarded specifically for valor. That would be 1,000 stories of American heroics. That would be 1,000 stories hardly told.
I’ve been following the war fairly closely for three and a half years, and I admit I can’t think of 10 American servicemembers who have made headlines for their heroism.
* One of them is U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, who was killed April 4, 2003, just as Baghdad was liberated. Sgt. Smith jumped atop an Armored Personnel Carrier and machine-gunned at least 20 of the 100 Iraqi Republican Guard troops who were closing in on about three dozen of his fellow soldiers near Baghdad’s airport. So far, Smith is the only soldier whose Iraq service has been recognized with a Medal of Honor.
* Another hero is Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who died April 22, 2004, eight days after he jumped on a terrorist’s grenade to save three fellow Marines at a checkpoint in Husaybah.
* Another hero is Army Staff Sgt. William Thomas Payne. On Sept. 12, 2004, in Baghdad, when a car bomb disabled and set fire to a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Payne ran through insurgents’ gunfire and climbed atop the vehicle to pull the crew and other soldiers to safety.
* Another hero is Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who was shot in the face Nov. 16, 2004, as he entered an enemy hideout in Fallujah, and then was killed when an insurgent rolled a grenade toward him and his fellow Marines. To protect his buddies, Peralta snatched the grenade and held it to his body.
* Yet another hero is pioneer pilot Chuck Yeager’s grandson, Marine Cpl. Joel Yeager, who in November 2004 exchanged grenades with the enemy and tossed one back, too, saving a buddy under fire in Fallujah.
* Another hero is Army medic Pfc. Stephen Tschiderer, who on June 2, 2005, in Baghdad was shot in the chest, got back up, chased and captured the sniper who shot him. When Tschiderer discovered the sniper was wounded, he gave him first aid.
* Three other heroes are Army military police, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein and Spc. Jason Mike, who defended their convoy from an ambush by 40 insurgents March 20, 2005, southeast of Baghdad.
Who are they? You might have heard about these American heroes of the Iraq war. You probably didn’t. If you did, it’s unlikely you heard or read news accounts of their gallantry for more than a day or two.
Why have we heard so little? The 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico should know about the noble sacrifices their native sons and daughters are making every day in Iraq. We’re paying for this battle. We should know more about those who fight for us and for freedom.
We hear regularly about Abu Ghraib and Haditha. Those incidents and allegations certainly don’t represent the common behavior of GIs in Iraq. Yet I’ll bet my house that more Americans know the names Lynndie England and Charles Graner than know Paul Smith and Jason Dunham.
Quiet at the Pentagon. This is not simply the fault of the anti-Iraq-liberation news media. Someone at the Pentagon should be getting the full story out, and that someone has dropped the ball. Two months ago, the Blackfive military blog pointed out how hard it is even to find how many troops have earned Silver Stars. Everyone should demand a full accounting. Give us the stories.
American soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen are doing hard, heroic work in Iraq. In addition to all those Bronze Stars and Smith’s Medal of Honor, another 11,700 Purple Hearts and 195 Silver Stars have been awarded.
Our troops are demonstrating exceptional valor, virtue and sacrifice in their risky operations. It’s time we heard about them.
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Update of Oct. 27, 2006: ‘Heroes’: Pentagon unveils a series of stories on courageous GIs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Update: And now, click here to take a look at the Pentagon’s “50 Heroes for 50 States.”