Heroes don’t wear capes; they don’t wear star-spangled-themed tights, drive multi-million dollar customized sports cars, or fly through the stratosphere cradling the heroine under one muscular arm. No, real heroes don’t wear capes; they wear camo. Real heroes are filthy, bedraggled, and frequently need a shave. Around their neck in place of that cape? Dogs tags. And their mode of transportation instead of a Batmobile is a Humvee or tank. True American Heroes aren’t found in movie theaters; they’re found in the danger-ridden deserts of Afghanistan, and as we celebrate Veteran’s Day, we celebrate the true American Hero: you.
Members of the United States Armed Forces are all too often forgotten. After World War II, service members came home to parades and unbridled respect, but by the time Vietnam rolled around the welcoming committee had done a 180, consisting of spit and derision. Today veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan may not face the brutal mistreatment Vietnam vets did, but they also don’t receive the thanks they deserve, and today we’d like to take a moment to go over the myriad reasons all service members, whether active duty or veterans, should be thanked.
“Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.” John Wayne
Courage is an attribute everyone wants but not everyone possesses. Some mistakenly believe courage is the absence of fear, but it isn’t. There’s an old proverb that puts it best: “Fear and courage are brothers,” it claims, and so they are. Those who serve on the front lines know this perhaps best of all. They may feel fear, right down to their very marrow, but they refuse to let it run their lives. Despite the fear, despite the knowledge that death could come for them not just that very day but even that very hour, our soldiers press on, and they do it with style.
On September 8, 2009, a patrol comprised of Afghan forces and the Americans in charge of their training was making its way through a narrow valley in Afghanistan. They were heading for a village to meet with its elders, and as they neared their destination, the lights literally went out, and the ambush began. A mile away, a young Marine corporal listened to the crack of gunfire and the thunderous explosions of grenades and knew his friends, who were the Americans in the patrol, were going to be killed. Knowing full well he would be charging headlong into the gaping maw of death, he requested permission to go in, and was denied not once but four times. Perhaps a lesser man would have followed orders not only out of obedience but out of the realization that not going would most likely save his own life, but the Marine was not a lesser man, he was a man of Courage with a capital C.
The Marine turned to his friend, Staff Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, and told him they were going in despite orders to the contrary. He wasn’t going to leave his friends to die, even if it meant getting himself killed in the attempt. The two commandeered a Humvee, Juan taking the wheel and our courageous Marine manning the machine gun in the turret. And as bullets fired by AK-47s and machine guns zipped past his openly exposed head and chest and the concussion of mortars and RPGs rocked his world, the Marine willingly entered battle.
They came upon a group of wounded Afghan soldiers first and stopped the Humvee. The Marine left the vehicle and loaded the wounded, risking his life with each step. Then Juan spun the Humvee around and they took those men to safety, men who referred to the ongoing battle as “the most intense combat” they’d ever seen. And then, when their courageous actions were already impressive, the two young men returned to the kill zone with the hope of rescuing others – again.
The second time they went in was worse. Juan was forced to drive erratically to avoid being blown to smithereens and our young Marine’s gun jammed, so he simply grabbed another. This time they saved even more wounded Afghan soldiers, and after rushing them to safety, he and Juan turned around and went back a third time. The third time the insurgents were onto them and boldly charged the Humvee, forcing the Marine to fight them off up-close-and-personal. That time they finally reached embattled Americans; Juan had to use the Humvee as a physical shield against incoming fire while the injured Americans packed themselves into the vehicle. And again, they took a group of men to safety.
Now, you’re thinking, the courage has reached monumental proportions, and surely it’s over – and you’d be wrong, because the two men went back a fourth time. At this point the Marine had an injured arm and the Humvee was riddled with bullet holes. “I didn’t think I was going to die,” he said, “I knew I was.” And yet they went back a fourth time, loaded up, and made another stunning run to safety.
It was on the fifth trip back into the inferno of battle that his mettle was truly tested. The final group of Americans was well and truly trapped; all had been shot, and all lay where they had fallen. By this point the Marine had been joined by a few others, and the courageous Marine and his fellow men charged from the now-smoking Humvee while bullets ricocheted off the dry earth at his feet and RPGs exploded all around. And he knelt down, and he carried the fallen men to safety, one by one.
On that day, the enormous courage of Dakota Meyer saved the lives of 36 men. That kind of courage is not something typically found in everyday life; it is the strength of the soldier, the sailor, the Marine; it is the strength of the veteran. Real courage, you see, is a rare commodity; if you want to see it, you need only to look into the eyes of a man who has seen combat. It is in his eyes, in the shadows; it is that Thing that lends him the ability to charge into battle, heedless of personal danger, and save others. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to ignore it and rush into chaos, teeth bared.
“Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice.” Morihei Ueshiba
There is a brotherhood in the military, a certain purity of loyalty outsiders have a tendency to overlook or misunderstand. It’s the kind of loyalty that keeps a soldier in battle alongside a teammate too wounded to move, and it leads to the kind of sacrifice that compelled SEAL Mike Murphy to walk out into the open to use his satellite phone to call for help for his men even though he knew going out into the open meant his sure death. The brotherhood has no expiration date; it doesn’t end on the date of a man’s separation from the military or when he’s transferred into a new unit or team. Once you are a part of the brotherhood, you’re tied into a network of loyalty unlike anything you ever have or will experience in your life.
That loyalty extends farther than the brotherhood, though. Some of the most loyal people you will ever know are members of the military. Gaining their loyalty isn’t necessarily an easy or simple thing – and it shouldn’t be – but once you have it, it takes something fairly earth-shaking to lose it. A loyal friend is a gift like no other, and those who are loyal to this country, so loyal they’re willing to risk their lives for it, deserve our loyalty in return. How many veterans are out there living on the streets or suffering from PTSD and in need of help they’re not getting? Where is our loyalty to those who so selflessly served this country?
As Mark Twain once said, “Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.” What is our government doing to help our homeless and suffering veterans? I’d like to add to that: loyalty to our service members always, and shame on those who fail to give our veterans the loyalty and help they deserve but rarely request.
“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and is not easy.” Aristotle
Anger may seem out of place while praising the strengths and virtues of members of our military, but perhaps it’s the emotion most at home. There is fairly significant evidence that one of the qualities of a great soldier is the ability to channel their anger in the right direction: at the enemy. And while there is also evidence that time in the military has a way of stirring up more anger, the reality is we all have anger. Some of us may hide it better than others, and, yes, some have more than others, but we all have it. It’s what we do with it that matters.
If we didn’t have men willing to go out on the front lines or to go on dangerous missions and do certain things in the dark of night that a great many people would like to pretend aren’t necessary, our nation would fall. If that seems extreme, consider this. As long as there is evil in the world we will need protectors to go out and stand up to it and to dole out justice on a highly personal level, otherwise, evil will take root and grow. Maybe justice takes anger; anger channeled in the right direction, anger molded and honed into a killing tool, anger used to protect us while we sleep. I have yet to meet a man who has seen combat who has not shown fury at the injustices and evils he has witnessed, and the ability of those men to face that evil and deal with it isn’t something we all possess.
Yes, they’re angry. They’ve borne witness to some of man’s most inhumane atrocities against man – and women, and children – and they go on. Someone has to be willing to do certain things to ensure our safety, and if you find that distasteful, perhaps it’s time for a dose of reality. Edmund Burke said the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, but what he left out is it takes men with an understanding of violence to do repay it. They are good men; you are good men. Your anger is righteous, and we are grateful for your willingness to do whatever it takes to keep us safe.
“I love the name of honor more than I fear death.” Julius Caesar
Shakespeare wrote of honor at length in Julius Caesar, and in the death of Cassius one thing was made clear: giving his life was the price he felt he had to pay for what he saw as his ruined honor. Honor is a rare trait, and men of honor are a truly endangered species. Perhaps it is only natural with the ebb and flow of time, but real honor has become so exceedingly rare as to be surprising when it is seen. Some – but not all – of the greatest acts of honor are now seen in our military.
There is a true story of a sailor who was unfairly and horrendously treated by a senior officer. The officer intentionally stalled well-deserved promotions and proved a hindrance for years. One night, the young sailor and his friends were out on the town and came upon the officer, who was fall-down drunk in the street. Coming from the other direction was that era’s version of the naval police. Without hesitating, the sailor leapt forward, put his arm around the officer, and pretended to be sharing a personal joke with him. He maintained the cover until the danger passed, at which point his fellow sailors asked why he did not take the opportunity to “knock a few stripes off” the senior man. The answer was simple: Honorable men do not do that. A man of Honor doesn’t take advantage of a weak moment to make his point. For some, the weak moment is the perfect opportunity to strike, and yet, that is not Honor.
Real, hot-blooded, capital-H Honor is witnessed more often in our military than anywhere else. It’s the greatest trait of the greatest soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, and it is for that very thing we should be most grateful. Men of honor protect the weak, save the helpless, and do not hesitate to act where others would think only of themselves. Honor is not measured in inches or pounds but by words and actions, and for those reasons, you must seek it out, both within yourself and in those around you. Sine honore nihil sum (“Without honor, I am nothing.”).
Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, and we celebrate You, the real American Hero. Each and every one of you who has served our nation deserves our thanks. Without you or borders would fall, our freedoms would be lost, and anarchy would rule the day. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, from the bottom of my heart, for your many sacrifices, many of which aren’t visible but exist nonetheless. We owe you more than we can say, and you are the American Hero.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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