CMH for the Living

This is kind of interesting:

The Pentagon has recommended that the White House consider awarding the Medal of Honor to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War, according to U.S. officials.

The soldier, whose nomination must be reviewed by the White House, ran through a wall of enemy fire in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in fall 2007 in an attempt to push back Taliban fighters who were close to overrunning his squad. U.S. military officials said his actions saved the lives of about half a dozen men.

It is possible that the White House could honor the soldier’s heroism with a decoration other than the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor. Nominations for the Medal of Honor typically include detailed accounts from witnesses and can run hundreds, if not thousands, of pages. The review has been conducted so discreetly that the soldier’s family does not know that it has reached the White House, according to U.S. officials who discussed the nomination on the condition of anonymity because a final decision is pending.

When I was in the military, we used to joke (morbidly) that the CMH didn’t stand for Congressional Medal of Honor, but for “coffin with metal handles.” I think awarding the CMG to more living soldiers is definitely a good thing.

*** Update ***

From the comments, apparently I have been calling the Medal of Honor by the wrong name for decades (as were a bunch of my NCO’s):

Goddammit, Cole, you should know that it’s not the Congressional Medal of Honor, just the Medal of Honor.

Do you need to be sent back to Basic?

I’d love to be in the shape I was in after Basic!

86 replies
  1. 1
    stuckinred says:

    You probably know this but: “As the award citation includes the phrase “in the name of Congress”, it is sometimes erroneously called the Congressional Medal of Honor, however the official title is the Medal of Honor,”

  2. 2
    edmund dantes says:

    Think you meant to put CMH in that last part “awarding CMG”.

    Yeah, it would be good to get the CMH back to giving out for the stated reasons. It sort of has become like the Oscar for Best Actor (in a Drama) and Heisman Trophy (for most outstanding college Quarterback or Running Back) instead of its original designation. Being dead was not a pre-requisite for receiving the Medal, but this is how it has evolved.

  3. 3
    Jude says:

    Goddammit, Cole, you should know that it’s not the Congressional Medal of Honor, just the Medal of Honor.

    Do you need to be sent back to Basic?

  4. 4
    Phoebe says:

    Yes! Give it to him now.

    And of course this is what Congressional Medal of Honor makes me think of:

    “This nation jealously guards its highest award for valor – the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the Korean War, with five million, seven hundred and twenty thousand personnel engaged, only seventy-seven men were so honored. One of these seventy-seven men was Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw. Raymond Shaw was returned from combat and flown directly to Washington to be decorated personally by the President of the United States. This is why his presence, or the presence of any Medal of Honor winner is sufficient to bring generals to their feet saluting.”

  5. 5
    John Cole says:

    @Jude: I wouldn’t mind getting back in shape!

  6. 6
    Jude says:

    Alright, then.

    I can hire myself out as a personal trainer. I’ll yell motivational slogans at you while you plot my doom.

    Of course, you will be responsible for my commuting costs to and from Madison, WI, as well.

    I’m sure you can bleg up enough cash to cover these clearly modest expenses.


  7. 7
    Bill H says:

    Granted, I served in the Navy, where individual medals were about as plentiful as teeth in a chicken, but as I recall from soldiers and Marines with whom I did serve, medals were not highly regarded and those who sought medals were regarded with contempt. Anyone suggesting a greater degree of awarding of medals would have been hooted down with great derision.

    One of the boats in our squadron had a Presidential Unit Citation, and woe betide the crew member of that ship who ever wore that ribbon on his liberty uniform.

    Now the “E” on the conning tower, that was a different matter.

  8. 8
    Jeff says:

    My first platoon leader when I was in the army was the son of a living Medal of Honor recipient (from Vietnam). His father was also still active duty.

  9. 9

    @John Cole:

    I wouldn’t mind getting back in shape!

    Spoken from the rugged terrain of a Lazy Boy Recliner;

  10. 10
    stuckinred says:

    @Bill H: The CNO offed himself because he got caught wearing a “v” device on his Bronze Star that he did not earn.

  11. 11
    jon says:

    More living heroes would be a good thing. I really don’t like that the only soldiers I ever hear about are the ones that died this week, as listed on television occasionally. Plus an occasional man or woman being greeted coming home. And some stories about homebuilders making accommodations to a home for some wounded vet.

    This may be an oversaturated media world, and that might put many soldiers at risk if they’re identified. But still, a little story about heroism is a good thing and would give this war a human face that’s been missing from the fighters–understandably when it’s theirs and not so understandable when it’s ours–to our detriment. We often forget that there are actual people over there while we’re complaining about policy.

    Soldiers and politicians don’t often get along, nor should they get along too much. Sometimes, especially when reading blogs, it seems like we’re a nation of politicians.

  12. 12
    Richard Bottoms says:

    I’d love to be in the shape I was in after Basic!

    Gee, I wish I was back in the Army!

  13. 13
    stuckinred says:

    @Jeff: He didn’t go to the Point huh? MOH recipients children get direct appointments.

  14. 14

    @Bill H: Many a GI body bag has been filled by brown bars seeking glory from medals..

  15. 15
    stuckinred says:

    @jon: I think of of the problems is that so many of the casualties in these two conflicts come from IED’s, it’s difficult to have the level of valor required when you just get your ass blown away by a mine.

  16. 16
    Jeff says:

    @stuckinred: Not only did he go to the Point his father was Commandant of Cadets at the time.

  17. 17
    stuckinred says:

    @Jeff: Serious stuff, have you read Lewis Puller’s “Fortunate Son”? Chesty’s son who was “born to be a Marine Corps Officer”.

  18. 18
    stuckinred says:

    @Jeff: General Foley

  19. 19
    Comrade Mary says:

    I’d love to be in the shape I was in last summer!

    Hey, any other less than fit people feel up for a challenge? I need some competition to get me off my ass. (It’s a fine ass, mind you. It’s the rest of me that needs some work.)

  20. 20
  21. 21
    Culture of Truth says:

    Is it McChrystal?

  22. 22 I try to be amused says:

    At my Junior ROTC unit’s Annual Federal Inspection in 1974, on the inspector’s chest I recognized the blue ribbon with stars of the Medal of Honor. I put a little something extra into my standing at attention for him.

  23. 23
    stuckinred says:

    @Culture of Truth: He never served in the Nam.

  24. 24
    Jared says:

    The last living trooper to get it was Bob Kerrey, right?

    And when, oh when, is he going to get run out of the New School on a rail?

  25. 25
    Culture of Truth says:

    “The soldier, whose nomination must be reviewed by the White House,”

    why is Obama dithering???!!!???

  26. 26
    Culture of Truth says:

    It’s possible the White House needs approval from Republicans that the soldier bled enough to earn a medal

  27. 27
    Jeff says:

    @Jared: No it was Michael E. Thornton

  28. 28
    stuckinred says:

    @Jared: Jon R. Cavaiani, June 1971, born in the UK.

  29. 29
    Michael says:

    I’m going to be the contrarian. I’m kinda fond of holding that one back for the truly extraordinary, and am a little tired of seeing that those who aren’t wearing utilities (which are being overworn these days) with enough ribbons to embarrass a Bolivian admiral, even if they’re corporals barely out of their teens.

  30. 30
    Carrie says:

    @Comrade Mary:
    Awright, Comrade. i’m in.
    Happy Canada day, btw.

  31. 31
    stuckinred says:

    @Michael: You think they’ve been handing the MOH a bit too much lately?

  32. 32
    frankdawg says:

    I told my kid if he earned any medals for this sort of thing they would be posthumous – if not on the field then at my hands when he got home.

    Not exactly the Spartan “with your shield or on it” kinda dad I guess.

    I had friends die in Viet Nam. I stopped by to offer condolences to a family of one & had to explain what ‘posthumous ‘ meant to his immigrant father who would have been quite happy to never have learned that word of English. He was not comforted by the letter.

  33. 33
    Culture of Truth says:

    I was fine until Bush gave his dog a Medal of Freedom

  34. 34
    frankdawg says:


    The MoH is still pretty rare but other things may have gotten out of hand.

    At the time of the Granada invasion I read a report saying the ratio of medals to participants was greater than any other engagement in the history of the US Army.

  35. 35
    furioso ateo says:

    This would be great if they did it. Plenty of people in these wars who deserved one and were snubbed. Nowhere does it say that you have to die to earn a MOH.

  36. 36
    stuckinred says:

    @frankdawg: And it took us years to get them to approve a goddamn Korean Defense Medal!

  37. 37

    huh. You want to get back into the shape you were in basic? Then do the activity. (yeah, I know).

    Some of us got into units that got us in even better shape later, but let’s stick with basic – or at least my basic.

    Get up somewhat before dawn and do your basic toiletries. At the crack of dawn start a major exercise routine that varies by day but includes at least 100 pushups (not all at once) and a two mile run. For the rest it matters not whether it’s calisthenics or log drills or several runs through the obstacle course, just make sure it lasts at least a full hour.

    Walk anywhere that’s less than one mile from one point to another. If you drive, park at least a quarter mile from your destination and walk to the endpoint. Always choose stairs if there’s an option.

    Throughout the day, at least once every two hours, drop and do twenty. This should happen pretty much till you go to bed, by the way.

    During lunchtime, walk at least a half mile before and after you eat. Same for supper.

    Your meals need to be fully nutritional. Also recognize that you’re upping the calories you burn and do not starve yourself. Counterintuitively, you probably need to eat MORE while working out like this so as to get in shape instead of burning muscle as well as fat.

    Many claim they’d love to be in the shape they were in basic. The reality is they wish they were, but they don’t want to pay the price to get there. (Me, too.)

  38. 38
    S. cerevisiae says:

    they gave out twenty for the Wounded Knee massacre.

  39. 39
    Monkeyfister says:

    The actions of this particular soldier were witnessed and recorded in Sebastian Junger’s new book, “War,” and IIRC, also in the Junger/Hetherington documentary “Restrepo.”

    What he did to save his fellow Soldiers is truly, truly amazing.


  40. 40
    Richard Bottoms says:

    why is Obama dithering??????

    You mean, why is our president acting like a thoughtful leader, giving due consideration to the things he says and the things he does, and not acting like a hare-brained cowboy?

    I know after eight years of the exact opposite behavior this is hard to get used to.

  41. 41
    slightly_peeved says:

    The Victoria Cross is the equivalent of the MoH for Commonwealth Countries. The latest example is Trooper Mark Donaldson. He deliberately drew fire from Taliban machinegunners so wounded soldiers could be moved to safety, then ran 80 metres in front of the machine guns to pick up a wounded interpreter, ran back carrying the interpreter and gave him first aid.

    Would he be any less deserving for the fact he managed to save both himself and the interpreter? The fact he survived it makes him more of a badass, not less of one.

  42. 42
    Brachiator says:

    The Pentagon has recommended that the White House consider awarding the Medal of Honor to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War, according to U.S. officials.

    Just do it.

  43. 43
    Michael says:

    @Kirk Spencer:

    Yup, that’s the routine that dropped me from 215 to 170. I was actually a little too skinny after basic and had to pick up about 10.

    I also think the constant yelling probably helped escalate pound melting tension.

  44. 44
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Bill H #7:

    “The 2 on the conning tower”?

    Why am I picturing the famous tilted Enron logo?

  45. 45
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @me #43

    Dammit, the 2 should be an E. Otherwise the lame joke is even lamer.

  46. 46
    Culture of Truth says:

    You mean, why is our president acting like a thoughtful leader, giving giving due consideration
    to the things he says and the things he does, and not acting like a hare-brained cowboy?

    Yes. It’s very annoying.

  47. 47
    debbie says:


    I started reading that book last night and am at the beginning of that operation. I don’t know how these guys do what they do. How do you fight the reflex to flee in the face of fire?

  48. 48
    Carnacki says:

    I’d love to be in the shape I was in after Basic!

    O/T, but John it’s totally doable. I lost 45 pounds in six months and am stronger than I was when I was league champion polevaulter. All at 46 with degenerative discs in my lower back and a messed up right leg (torn calf and partly torn Achille’s three years ago and minivan struck the same leg two years ago).

    So if you think it’s impossible, as I had, it isn’t.

  49. 49
    Bill H says:

    I’m glad you see the folly of comparing an, at the time, twenty-year-old diesel-electric submarine to Enron. We were pretty proud of that “E” on our conning tower.

  50. 50

    “I’d love to be in the shape I was in after Basic!”

    Me too.

  51. 51
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Bill H: Actually, I was riffing on the term “conning,” as in, Enron turned out to be a big con job. (I didn’t actually know the term “conning tower” until, oh, about half an hour ago, so there’s that. The E just made it easy.)

  52. 52
    stuckinred says:

    @Right Wing Extreme: Hmmm, 44 years. I guess I’m happy with my 2 mile dog walk and mile swim a day.

  53. 53
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Round is a shape.

  54. 54

    Training. If I remember the stats right, about 50% of soldiers wet themselves the first time the bullets fly. Most still fight, but some freeze. After a few engagements, it becomes, not routine, but much more manageable. You are always frightened, at least my buddies and I always were, but you do the job in front of you.

  55. 55
  56. 56
    stuckinred says:

    @Right Wing Extreme: The pucker factor

  57. 57

    @stuckinred: Many physical exercises are extremely painful. Between high school football injuries, military injuries, some clumsiness that led to injuries, and just plain getting older, there is much I can not do. I do walk as much as possible though. The wife has me un the push-away diet so that is helping with the weight, but I will never be in the same shape I was then, pity.

    @Just Some Fuckhead: right

  58. 58
    jeffreyw says:

    Cool, just downloaded “War” to my Nook. Also “Matterhorn”, a Vietnam war novel that James Fallows has been citing.

  59. 59
    stuckinred says:

    @Right Wing Extreme: Yea, I had to quit playing hoop at 47 and running at 55. Now it’s walking and swimming. I fractured my left leg in 18 places in Jr High (didn’t keep my out of the Army) and broke mt back, t-6, in 75. I am very luck to be mobile at all.

  60. 60
    jeffreyw says:

    @debbie: There is a considerable body of work that attempts to answer that question. Can’t cite anything off the top of my head, but from experience I can say that there are two very good reasons: The first instinct is to get to cover, not to flee. Prone on the bare ground is better than nothing, The second is protecting yourself from the disapproval of your friends. There are more, they tend to be situational. I’ve seen people pissed that a friend was hit and charge the fire yelling curses at the enemy.

  61. 61
    Mike in NC says:

    I had an offer for a free audio book and chose “Where Men Win Glory” by Jon Krakauer. The story of Pat Tillman, the football player who joined the Army Rangers and was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire. Very good.

  62. 62
    jeffreyw says:

    @Right Wing Extreme: I remember my first time. LOL no pee, but I was baffled by why everyone suddenly dropped to the ground. The John Wayne movies I grew up watching never got the incoming fire right. The bullets snap by with a supersonic crack.

  63. 63
    eric says:

    Rather than medals, perhaps we get these men and women help with their mortgages and lives when they get back. Not to mention, get them real psychiatirc treatment.

    Disclaimer: I never served for a host of cultural reasons. I find it shameful that as a nation we can muster the funds to build silos and missles and planes we dont really want or need, but we shortchange the souls of the men and women we ask to engage in actions counter to what is expected of humans in a civilized society.


  64. 64

    @jeffreyw: I didn’t pee either, must be that pucker factor stuckinred was talking about, but I was pretty scared until “top” came by and asked me pretty please with sugar to join the battle. I was more afraid of him than a bunch or gomers. You are right about Hollywood never getting the incoming fire right.

  65. 65
    Kered (formerly Derek) says:


    I agree.

  66. 66
    Indie Tarheel says:

    Doc recently read me the riot act about getting in shape. Apparently, he didn’t think that round counted.

  67. 67

    I think if you got rid of medal, and the praise for heroic actions they represent, you would catch hell from the military. If they are in the regular service they probably don’t have mortgages and the military is their life, so there is no job to look for etc. Real psychiatric care would be a good thing though. The military is getting better with that, and they are definitely trying. As for silos we don’t need I would disagree about their need, and I do not think we have built one in 20 years or so. I may be wrong on how long since we built a silo, but it has been a good long while. As for planes, which planes have we built that we don’t need. Our existing airframes are pretty old, except the Raptor and the Lightening 2. I am curious about your statement of, “[T]he men and women we ask to engage in actions counter to what is expected of humans in a civilized society.” Please elaborate. I would agree that we do shortchange our servicemen. I find it offensive in the extreme that many of our junior enlisted men can not raise a family without foodstamps and WIC. Even noncoms can qualify for WIC, which is crazy.

  68. 68
    stuckinred says:

    @eric: Well, the GI Bill is a hell of alot better than it was when I got out.

  69. 69
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Right Wing Extreme

    Are awarding combat medals and providing appropriate support to military families and vets mutually exclusive? Any reason we can’t recognize bravery with a medal AND provide mortgage assistance, mental health services, etc. as well?

  70. 70
    mikeyes says:


    Michael Thornton retired from the Navy but is still alive.

    COL Gordon Roberts is the only MOH winner serving on active duty. Ironically he was LTC Terry Lakin’s CO when LTC Lakin decided to disobey orders because he thought that the President was not “native born.” LTC Lakin is often depicted as “highly decorated” by his defenders but only has the usual salad on his chest. On the other hand COL Roberts really is a hero.

  71. 71
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    The Victoria Cross is the equivalent of the MoH for Commonwealth Countries. The latest example is Trooper Mark Donaldson. He deliberately drew fire from Taliban machinegunners so wounded soldiers could be moved to safety, then ran 80 metres in front of the machine guns to pick up a wounded interpreter, ran back carrying the interpreter and gave him first aid.

    Isn’t it interesting that we regard soldiers showing this sort of foolhardy courage heroes, but when someone drives a car full of explosives into a barrier in an attempt to kill members of an invading army, they’re “monsters” and “terrorists”?

  72. 72
    debbie says:


    I’ve read that it’s a combination of training, a feeling of at least partial control of the situation, and putting your buddies ahead of yourself. But there’s stuff like adrenaline and cortisol that you can’t control.

    I’ve never been in battle, but the scariest situation for me was a few years ago when I heard a thump while in the shower, grabbed a towel, and ran out into my living room to find a guy standing there looking back at me. I think he was more frightened than me, having assumed that the apartment was empty, and he quickly turned around and ran out. But I was still visibly shaking more than 5 hours later. No peeing though.

    Also, Matterhorn is pretty good. Of the war books I’ve read, this one’s the best at capturing the immediacy and chaos of combat. I read that the original manuscript was 3 times as long as the finished book (around 700 pages)!

  73. 73
    stuckinred says:

    @efgoldman: A bronze star is not always awarded for valor.

    The Bronze Star Medal (or BSM) is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service.

    When it is it has a “V” device on it. If your dad got one it’s because someone thought he deserved it. Being a personnel specialist he knows that.

  74. 74
    stuckinred says:

    Why would that comment warrant moderation?

  75. 75
    debbie says:

    Also: In Junger’s book, the soldiers decide that the best spelling for the sound of gunfire is “ka-SHAAH.”

  76. 76

    @SiubhanDuinne: no of course they are not mutually exclusive. But Eric did say “instead”. Hopefully he meant in addition too, but I can only go by what he said. Though my statement could be interpreted as shrink help only for heroes, which I do NOT mean. Many (active duty) soldiers, in the enlisted ranks, do not have mortgages. They rent. It would be foolish to buy a house while you are in the service, unless it is a retirement house, vacation property etc., because anyone who has served knows you just get done unpacking and paying for your last change of station when the next one rolls around. Much more useful to a serviceman would be to pay for the blasted COS’s, as the allowance is nowhere near enough anymore. As for mental health, that is already covered. Personally I think the failure there is the medical knowledge. There is soooooo much we do not understand about PTSD, or whatever they are calling it this week, especially effective treatment. Honestly mental health is just barely past the witch-doctor stage, so we should have realistic expectations about what they can accomplish. They are trying and deserve credit for that.

  77. 77
    jeffreyw says:

    @debbie: I guess that depends on the distance the bullet has traveled, whether it’s still supersonic. I often describe it by snapping my fingers next to someone’s ear, but that is just an approximation. I’ve heard it as a hiss but only from a round that was fired so far away it was about spent. Full auto going by is more a crackle than a snap.

  78. 78
    stuckinred says:

    @Right Wing Extreme: Are you familiar with the notion of Post Traumatic Growth? I had never heard of it until recently but I have certainly seen it in action. It’s always been amazing to me how some of my Nam vet friends essentially gave up and drank themselves to death while others forge positive lives. I guess EB Sledge, the author of “With The Old Breed” is a prime example. Horrific experiences in the Pacific and he became a wonderful educator and scientist.

  79. 79
    stuckinred says:

    @jeffreyw: You don’t hear the one that gets you.

  80. 80
    stuckinred says:

    @debbie: Almost sounds more like an rpg.

  81. 81

    I had never heard the term, but I am certainly familiar with the concept. I know a few soldiers that could be poster boys for it.

    Anyone want to take that up for Eric?

    I wish Eric would get back to me on my questions, I am very curious about his assertions, though they are somewhat off topic. Maybe someone else will take up the cause for him. The topics he rose were these:

    Eric’s Statement: “[T]he men and women we ask to engage in actions counter to what is expected of humans in a civilized society.”

    RWE’s ?: What actions do we ask of our servicemen are counter to what is expected of humans in a civilized society?

    Eric’s Statement: “[W]e can[ ]the funds to build[ ]planes we don[‘]t really want or need[.]

    RWE’s ?: Which planes have we built that we don’t need or want?

  82. 82
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @stuckinred #75: You probably figured this out hours ago, but the spam filter was triggered by your use of the word “speciaIist” which contains, like “sociaIism,” the dreaded “CiaIis.”

  83. 83
    anon says:

    A relative of mine received the Congressional Medal of Honor in WW II. What he did was similar to the actions of the VC and prospective CMOH recipients mentioned above.

    He was very secretive about having it. I believe his children were entitled to free college tuition as children of a CMOH recipient and they — and no one in the family until years later — realized it. He just kept quiet about it.

  84. 84
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Well, since only 8 MoHs have been awarded since Vietnam (all since 1993), it’s not like it’s breaking longstanding precedent or anything.

    In fact, of the 3468 MoHs awarded over the years, only 621 have been awarded posthumously.

  85. 85
    Robert Sneddon says:

    Is there a civilian award for gallantry in the US? Here in the UK we have the George Cross and the George Medal which can be awarded to non-military folks who perform brave acts thought worthy of public acclaim. The George Cross is ranked alongside the Victoria Cross and is sometimes awarded to servicemen for acts of bravery which are not in “the face of the enemy” — one soldier received the GC for his efforts to rescue colleagues after a friendly-fire attack by American aircraft during the first Gulf War.

  86. 86

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