I want to write about heroism this week. I want to compare and contrast Sergeant Bowe Berghahl, with those soldiers who invaded the beaches of Normandy during Operation Overlord on 6 June 1944.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, as you may recall, was recently released from the Hakani network in the no-mans-land between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last week, the U. S. National Security Advisor spoke highly of Bergdahl and his service. Those who served with him did not.
A week ago today, U. S. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice appeared on ABC-TV’s ‘This Week with George Stephanopoulos’ and described Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl saying, “He served the United States with honor and distinction.” Using the phrase “served the United States,” sounds like Ms. Rice meant for the descriptors that followed to apply to all of his service.
Men who served alongside Bergdahl, and men who led him, have released statements and written articles [some of which I cited about three posts ago], asserting that Bergdahl abandoned his post. His platoonmates say he was not captured on the battlefield. They assert that he sneaked off their outpost with only water and a compass, leaving his weapons and body armor behind.
So, what did the National Security Advisor mean last Sunday, when she said Bergdahl “served…with honor and distinction?”
One possibility, Ms. Rice, and those who wrote the talking points for her, knew what Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers have asserted: that Bergdahl grew disillusioned with his country and the war and left to join the adversary. She may have been characterizing all of his service, as she thought of it. If they knew, is this what they see as serving with honor and distinction? I don’t know. We won’t know what she thought until all the facts are revealed.
On the other hand, perhaps Ms. Rice was unaware of the facts asserted by those in Bergdahl’s unit, and she naturally assumed that all U.S. Soldiers serve with honor and distinction, unless otherwise noted. Or, as she and Press Secretary Carney asserted later, she was only referring to Bergdahl’s enlistment, training and deployment. Perhaps this is the case. Perhaps, she wanted to cast a wayward son of America in the best possible light, and let the military justice system process him in due course. Perhaps she wanted to let his family and friends remember the man they knew before he deployed.
Seventy years ago this past Friday, over 160,000 troops of the U.S., U.K. and Canada invaded Hitler’s ‘Fortress Europe’ on the coast of Normandy, France. Over 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft crewed by these nations as well as Australians and New Zealanders supported the invasion. The Allied troops landed on five beaches fortified by the Nazis and codenamed “Gold, Sword, Utah, Omaha, and Juno” by the Allies.
The landings started in the pre-dawn hours and fighting continued through the night with 9,000 Allied troops wounded or killed. But by the morning of 7 June, 1944, the beachhead had been secured. The Allied soldiers faced not only barbed wire and other fixing obstacles on the beaches, but also Nazi gunners. Some of them dragged their fellow soldiers out of the water, onto the beach. They fought through the obstacles to take down the Nazi guns. Historians and Veterans have described the depiction of the D-Day invasion in Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ as accurate.
These men fought for their buddies on their left and right, but they also fought for their countries and to liberate the nations of Europe that Hitler and the Nazis had conquered. The Allies didn’t hold the nations of Europe as Hitler had attempted to do. The Allies returned the lands to their governments-in-exile and under the Marshall Plan, the United States rebuilt most of Europe.
That is honor. That is distinction.
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If you have a story of heroism, or a family member who served in World War II or took part in the D-Day invasion, let us know in the comments.
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