In his great book, Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground, Robert
Kaplan writes about spending months embedded with various American military units in far-flung corners of the world. Their acceptance of him and their common intellectual ground make him start to think he is one of them -- then he has a moment of extreme clarity as combat breaks out in Fallujah:
"Running into the fire rather than seeking cover from it goes counter to every human instinct-trust me. I had started deluding myself that they weren't much different from me. They had soft spots, they got sick, they complained. But in one flash. I realized they were not like me; they were Marines. It is no exaggeration to say that Capt. Smith and Bravo literally RODE TO THE SOUND OF THE GUNS."
If there is one overriding impression that readers will take away from Home of the Brave: Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror -- the last book by the late Caspar Weinberger and Wynton C. Hall -- it is the image of American Soldiers who are different from the rest of us: under attack, riding, running and even crawling toward the sound of the guns.
Weinberger and Hall have compiled the stories of 19 of America's most decorated heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan -- stories, they point out constantly, that you haven't heard in the mainstream media:
- Green Beret Mark Mitchell storming a fortress occupied by hundreds of armed Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters with a thrown-together team of 14 other Special Forces soldiers.
- Marines Brian Chontosh, Armand McCormick and Robert Kerman, who broke up an ambush of their column by 150 insurgents in Iraq by driving their Humvee into the middle of the enemy line and taking them on at close quarters.
- Army Sgt. Javier Comacho, who braved heavy enemy fire to rescue a trapped soldier in a flaming vehicle.
- Marine Marco Martinez, who rescued his wounded comrades from an ambushed vehicle, then single-handedly rushed the building the insurgents were firing from and took them out.
- Air Force combat controllers William Markham and Stephen Achey who, in separate battles, were not content to direct air strikes from a safe distance but placed themselves within range of Taliban fire then called down devastatingly accurate air strikes near their own positions.
- Airborne M/Sgt. Patrick Quinn, who led Kurdish troops against overwhelming numbers to destroy an entire Iraqi armored brigade, neutralized 2 infantry divisions and routed a division of Fedayeen in a running three-day battle.
- Marine Justin LeHew, who came to the assistance of a convoy under fire, rescued the wounded, pressed the attack on the ambushers in a three-hour urban firefight, then rescued nine more soldiers from a burning armored vehicle under enemy fire.
- Hospitalman Luis Fonseca Jr., who stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 140 pounds, sprinting 300 yards under enemy fire with a 6-foot-1, 210 pound Marine on his back.
- Sgt. Micheux Sanders, who, when his M1 tank ran out of 120mm shells in a firefight with militia in Sadr City, opened the hatch and fired a machine gun until he ran out of .50-caliber ammo, then continued, using his own M4 rifle. "I threw whatever I had at them," he joked later. "When we ran out of ammo, I threw rocks."
- Army National Guard Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman to receive a Silver Star since Mary Louise Roberts in 1944. She and her team mates, fellow Silver Star recipients Jason Mike and Timothy Nein, put themselves between a convoy and 50 insurgents and not only defended the convoy but also killed most of the attackers,
- Navy Cross recipients Marine Capt. Brent Morel and his sergeant, Willie Copeland, who together rushed an ambush by Iraqi insurgents and broke it up. When Morel was fatally wounded, Copeland shielded his captain with his own body trying to save him.
The authors save the highest praise for Army Sgt. Paul Ray Smith, the only Medal of Honor recipient since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and Medal of Honor nominee Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta, both of whom gave their lives to protect their comrades.
Smith's heroic last act was reminiscent of Audie Murphy -- he deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire to man a machine gun position and defend his unit from attack. And Peralta, who after being severely wounded in a firefight in Fallujah, threw himself onto a grenade, giving his life for his friends.
I listed them all for you here because this may be the only story you will read that even mentions most of them. As the authors note, the alleged abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was the subject of more than 50-front page stories in the New York Times, while the awarding of the Medal of Honor to Paul Smith was relegated to page A13.
It is fitting that Home of the Brave is the last public service performed by another genuine American hero, Caspar Weinberger. As secretary of defense, Cap was an indispensable part of Ronald Reagan's Cold War strategy. By all accounts a brilliant man and a superb human being, it was an abomination that, at the news of Weinberger's recent death, nearly every media account led with his fraudulent indictment by special persecutor Lawrence Walsh, the Captain Ahab of the left. Whatever you think of the first President Bush's record in other areas, pardoning Cap was a noble act.
Home of the Brave won't be considered a lasting military classic in the vein of Bing West's great books on the Iraq War; it functions more as an arguing point to underline the current sorry state of media coverage of our fighting forces. While West saves his slap at reporters for the last chapter of No True Glory, Weinberger and Hall pause to honor the surviving heroes - or their survivors - and give their take on the mainstream media's coverage of the war at the end of each story.
A tendency toward World War II newsreel-style narration sometimes tells us of the great character of these heroes, rather than letting their actions speak for themselves, and may strike some as a touch over the top. On the other hand, the authors' point is difficult to overemphasize. Whether Haditha turns out to be a (much) smaller version of My Lai or a media-driven hoax, such as the supposed Israeli massacre at Jenin, it's a dead certain guarantee that you will hear the names of the Marine participants far more often than those of Paul Smith or Rafael Peralta.
And that's just plain wrong.