Tag Archives: Medal of Honor

Honoring an Army ‘loser’?

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I am not proud of the thought that entered my mind when I heard the news, but I want to acknowledge it nonetheless.

Donald Trump draped a Medal of Honor around the neck of Army Sgt. Major Thomas P. Payne, honoring the recipient for the astonishing heroism he exhibited while rescuing hostages being held by Islamic State terrorists in Iraq.

Sgt. Major Payne is the real thing. He deserves the honor he received today in a ceremony that had been scheduled long before another story broke recently.

It was the report in The Atlantic that Trump has referred to men and women in uniform as “suckers” and “losers.” Trump denies saying those hideous things, which one would expect to hear from the commander in chief.

But the thought immediately was this: Did the sergeant major recall any of those ghastly views attributed to Trump while he was being honored for the astonishing battlefield heroism he displayed?

Sgt. Major Payne is, as Donald Trump described him today, “one of the bravest men anywhere in the world.” If only this ceremony wasn’t sullied by remarks attributed to the commander in chief.

Sgt. Major Payne’s heroism, despite the backdrop, stands alone.

Thank you so much for your service to the nation, Sgt. Major.

How does ‘Fort Benavidez’ sound?

Texas Monthly has pushed forward a capital idea: renaming Fort Hood after an authentic Texas hero.

Fort Hood’s name has come under fire — no pun intended — in the wake of the nation’s recent awakening over the identity of public institutions and the display of monuments that “honor” Confederate traitors to the nation.

Fort Hood is one such place. Its name belongs to John Bell Hood, a Confederate officer who was among those who betrayed the nation. As Texas Monthly points out, though, not only was Hood a traitor, he was a lousy field commander. His recklessness on the battlefield reportedly led to the fall of Atlanta, Ga., during the Civil War.

So we have chosen to put this guy’s name on an Army post.

TM suggests the name of Roy Benavidez, a Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient and a legitimate hero. And a Texan to boot!

Benavidez was born near Cuero. His parents died when he was a boy. He volunteered for the Army, qualified as a Green Beret, served in Vietnam as an adviser to South Vietnamese troops. After being injured badly during his first combat tour, Benavidez went back for a second tour and served with valor.

As Texas Monthly notes: So, Texas, it’s up to you. Do we continue to honor a Texan of convenience who fought ineptly against the United States government in defense of slavery, or choose instead to bestow those garlands on a native-born son of the Coastal Bend, who, in the Army’s own words, through “fearless personal leadership, tenacious devotion to duty, and extremely valorous actions in the face of overwhelming odds” epitomized “the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect the utmost credit on him and the United States Army”?

This is not a close call.

Communities honor Audie Murphy, a true-blue NE Texas legend

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This item was published initially on KETR.org, the website for KETR-FM, the public radio station based at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

This much is likely true: When you go off to war and then distinguish yourself by becoming the most highly decorated soldier in your nation’s history, communities are likely to compete for bragging rights to be known as your designated “home town.”

So, it has been with a young Northeast Texan named Audie Murphy.

It is not a fierce battle between communities in Northeast Texas. It’s more of a friendly competition. The competitors are Greenville and Farmersville, occupying neighboring Hunt and Collin counties.

The reality is that Audie Leon Murphy was born June 20, 1925 in Kingston, a Hunt County community about 10 miles north of Greenville. He would be 95 years of age. He didn’t live nearly that long, dying in a plane crash in 1971 at the age of 45.

Greenville has a museum that carries Murphy’s name. Farmersville, though, celebrates Audie Murphy Day to commemorate his homecoming from World War II in 1945. Indeed, I have learned that Murphy used his sister Nadene Lokey’s address in Farmersville as his home when he processed out of the Army at the end of World War II.

“We were living in an orphanage” when Murphy came home from the Army, said Lokey, who I visited with briefly at this year’s Audie Murphy Day celebration in Farmersville. Lokey said her brother got “a lot of money through the sale of war bonds” in his honor. “He then bought us a two-story house over on Washington Street (in Farmersville) and he came and got us out of the orphanage and moved us into the house,” Lokey said.

What did Murphy do to earn this competition between two cities? Oh, all he did was seemingly win the European Theater of operations by himself. Indeed, the opening line in Chapter One of the book “Audie Murphy: American Soldier,” by Harold Simpson, describes the diminutive warrior as “the greatest folk hero of Texas since Davy Crockett.” To be mentioned in the same sentence with one of the Alamo heroes, well, let’s just say that Audie Murphy is walking among some mighty tall cotton.

His battlefield exploits earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. The fight for which he received the Medal of Honor resulted in him killing several German soldiers, taking others captive and saving the lives of his comrades in arms. He took control of a German machine gun and, as they say, the rest is history. He was awarded three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit and the Legion of Honor (France’s highest military honor), the Silver Star, a Presidential Unit Citation … and dozens of other medals.

When someone asked him why he had seized the machine gun and taken on an entire company of German infantry, he replied, “They were killing my friends.” Well… there you have it.

After coming home, Audie Murphy became a film actor, portraying himself in an autobiographical film, “To Hell and Back.” He also struggled with what they called “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.” He married twice and produced two children, both of whom reportedly live in California. The women he married are deceased, according to Susan Lanning, director of the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum in Greenville. Murphy also became a singer, a songwriter and a poet.

None of Murphy’s emotional troubles dampened the communities’ efforts to claim him as their own, according to Jim Foy, a semi-retired computer software sales professional who helps keep Murphy’s legacy alive in Farmersville.

“‘Farmersville, Texas’ had been inscribed on his dog tags,” said Foy, adding that was just one indicator that Murphy considered Farmersville to be his hometown.

Farmersville stages an annual Audie Murphy Day every June 15 to commemorate the war hero’s return home from World War II. The city had a “small event” this year under the gazebo on the downtown square, Foy noted, explaining that the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the city’s usual blowout in Murphy’s memory.

This year’s celebration marked the 75th year since Murphy came home from the war. “Audie landed in Houston in 1945,” Foy explained, “then he flew to San Antonio, where they had the biggest parade they’ve ever had to honor his return. Then he drove to Farmersville, where they had a huge event.”

Foy acknowledges that Greenville has claimed Murphy, too, adding that “they have a real nice museum over there. He was born in Kingston, moved to Celeste for a time. He moved around quite a bit.”

Farmersville also has a small museum full of “World War II memorabilia and other artifacts from Murphy’s life,” said Foy. The museum usually is open the first Saturday each month but has been closed since the coronavirus pandemic broke out. “We’re hoping to get it open again soon,” Foy said.

Foy calls the rivalry over Murphy’s legacy as “friendly. We haven’t had any fist fights … yet.”

Lanning sees the “rivalry,” such as it is, a bit differently from Foy … no surprise there. Lanning said Murphy lived briefly in Kingston, briefly in Greenville but spent most of his formative years in Celeste. “His parents were sharecroppers,” Lanning said, “and they were quite poor. They moved around a lot.”

Lanning also noted that Murphy hated his first name and went by his middle name, Leon, as a boy. His military service more or less forced him to use his first name, Lanning said, which would draw puzzled looks from his friends back home, she said, many of whom had never heard the name “Audie” when referring to their old pal.

She said that Murphy “didn’t live in Farmersville but would visit his sister (Nadene) there. So, my guess is that Celeste can make more of a claim to Audie than either Farmersville or Greenville.”

Lanning prefers to suggest that since Murphy was born and came of age in Hunt County, that he is a Hunt County favorite son and doesn’t just belong to one community. She did note that Greenville had a “big parade for him when he came home” from World War II, just as Farmersville did.

Murphy’s schooling ended in the fifth grade, Lanning said. His lack of formal education did not deter Murphy from developing a significant social conscience. Lanning said that Murphy’s struggle with PTSD after World War II prompted him to talk openly about it. “He was one of the first GIs to talk about” the stress of combat, she said. Lanning said Murphy often spoke to veterans’ groups and visited vets in Veterans Administration hospitals to talk about what was known then as “battle fatigue,” Lanning said.

Even though he appeared in about 40 films, mostly under contract with Universal Studios, Murphy’s fortunes “went up and down,” Lanning said. “They even made a ‘GI Joe’ doll” in Murphy’s likeness, according to Lanning.

And so … Audie Leon Murphy’s legacy and memory live on, likely for at least as long as there are those around who honor the exploits of a hero who – just as heroes tend to do – dismisses what he did as heroic. As Murphy himself once said, “The true heroes, the real heroes, are the boys who fought and died, and never will come home.”

Audie Murphy’s fellow Northeast Texans surely would disagree.

The love lives on for Audie Murphy

How proud are they of Audie Leon Murphy in Farmersville, Texas?

They are so proud of their favorite son that they wouldn’t dare let an international medical pandemic — which has shut down ceremonies and outdoor events around the world — stop them from honoring the most decorated soldier to serve during World War II.

They cut the ceremony short, but it took place today as scheduled on the 75th anniversary of the day he returned home to Farmersville after receiving the Medal of Honor and 32 other medals on battlefields in Africa and Europe. When he arrived in Farmersville for a major homecoming, he was asked to speak to the crowd of about 5,000 that had gathered to cheer their hero. He told a reporter that he’d rather face an “enemy machine gun nest” than speak before a crowd. Indeed, he did wipe out an enemy machine emplacement, an action that brought him the Medal of Honor in 1945.

Audie Murphy Day occurs every June 15 in Farmersville, where Murphy had listed as his hometown when he entered the Army during the height of World War II. It’s usually a big blowout of an affair, but the pandemic forced the city to scale it back.

Still, a crowd of about 200 residents gathered in the downtown square next to the gazebo that sits just west of the Freedom Plaza Memorial.

I caught up with Murphy’s sister, Nadine Murphy Lokey, who now lives in Princeton, but who is a fixture at the annual Audie Murphy Day event.

“We were living in an orphanage when Audie went into the Army,” Lokey told me, “but he wanted to be a soldier his whole life. But, oh boy, he was scared to death over there.”

Lokey said her brother “had a lot of people praying for him. I was one of them who prayed every day and every night for him. It was a miracle that he survived the war.”

Speakers at the gazebo told of how Murphy wore dog tags with his uniform inscribed with “Farmersville, Texas.” They noted that a section of U.S. Highway 380 that runs through Farmersville is named the Audie Murphy Parkway and that the Northeast Texas Trail that begins in Farmersville is designated as the Audie Murphy Trailhead.

Yes, he was a key member of this community. Murphy died in a plane crash in 1971 at the age of 45. He wasn’t able to grow old, unlike his baby sister, Nadine.

The memory of his battlefield exploits live on forever … as does the love expressed today for this American hero.

They do it out of love

Americans from coast to coast to coast are honoring a new generation of heroes who’ve been called to action to fight an “invisible enemy” we’ve come to know as the coronavirus pandemic.

We’re holed up in our homes. Many of us — such as me — have been doing a lot of binge-watching of TV. Today has been devoted to watching a series I didn’t know existed until I found it on my Netflix channel.

It’s called “Medal of Honor.” It tells the stories of heroism that often defy human understanding. I’ve seen stories of brave warriors who fought — some to the death on the battlefield — from Italy, France and Germany, to Korea, to Vietnam and to Iraq and Afghanistan. All of these men received the Medal of Honor for their valor.

What is the thread that runs through all these tales of heroism? It is love. The men perform these acts out of love for their brothers in arms.

One story tells of such love between two Army soldiers who didn’t get along … until the bullets started flying in Afghanistan. One of the soldiers leapt into action to save his wounded comrade, the guy with whom he didn’t get along; he ran through a hail of bullets, tended to his comrade’s wounds, lifted him and carried him back to safety. The wounded soldier didn’t survive his wounds, but the young man who sought to save him cries to this day when recounting the loss of life and the regret he carries with him that he was unable to save his comrade. He acted out of love.

It’s love that is the overarching theme of these tales. It is woven into the narrative that is being told so long after they have been performed. Just as love is the common denominator among those who are honored for their valor on the field of battle, I also believe we are able to ascribe that motivation to today’s heroes who tend to those stricken by deadly illness.

You know, maybe we should tell these heroes more than just a simple “thanks.” Maybe we should express our love to them.

Time has run out for Trump to change his ways

I quit some time ago relying on my trick knee. It has failed me too many times. So I quit making political predictions.

But I want you to consider this forward-looking observation:
It is too late for Donald John Trump to change his ways while posing as president of the United States of America.

He’s been at this gig now for more than two years, going on three. Trump has been acting more erratically than ever. He just recently compared himself to God, called himself the “chosen one” to lead the country, joked that he wanted to grant himself the Medal of Honor, blamed Barack Obama for the souring economy, pitched a goofy notion about buying Greenland from Denmark, lashed out at Democrats and the media continually via Twitter.

Were the president to actually start acting “presidential,” how do you think that would look to rank-and-file voters? Well, it would like what it would be, a desperate attempt to pander to those beyond the “base” of supporters that like Trump just the way he has been all along.

It’s too late, therefore, for Donald Trump to change his ways. It’s too late for him to start acting like the president.

Therefore, if he gets re-elected in 2020 — and I shudder at the thought — Americans will have themselves to blame for ignoring the signals that ring out loudly and clearly: The country made a huge mistake when it allowed Donald Trump to win an Electoral College victory and, thus, become president of our great nation.

Here is to you, our national heroes

To my fellow veterans, I am sending you a note in a form I usually reserve for politicians. This is an open letter to you, our heroes.

You know who you are, even if you won’t acknowledge it. You are the individuals who paid the ultimate price for defending our nation against its enemies.

I want to share some thoughts with you on this Memorial Day. Your heroism hasn’t been forgotten.

Our nation has been honoring you since the Civil War. They used to call it Decoration Day. It morphed into Memorial Day. These days, of course, we spend a lot of time grilling outdoors, taking advantage of the unofficial start of summer. We play with our families, laugh and carry on.

But this holiday carries a deep and somber meaning. Your loved ones, those who still mourn their loss, always commemorate your heroism on battlefields far away. For them, every day is Memorial Day.

I once had the honor of taking part in the development of an exhibit intended to honor you. It’s in Amarillo. They call it the Texas Panhandle Veterans War Memorial. The then-head of the Vets Center in Amarillo — Pete Garcia, a U.S. Air Force veteran — asked me to write some narratives that would be engraved on one side of stone tablets; the narratives gave a brief history of the conflict to be memorialized. I did so, along with two other fellows who lived in the Amarillo area.

On the other side of the tablets contain the names of those Texas Panhandle residents who fell during those wars. Some of your names are engraved on the stones.

I was proud to play a small part in that project. It’s up now and is growing. Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell — a Vietnam War veteran — has added wonderful new exhibits to the memorial site: an F-100 fighter jet; a UH-1 Huey helicopter; and most recently, a piece of the battleship USS Arizona, which was sunk by Japanese war planes at Pearl Harbor. The memorial board has acquired the now-abandoned county annex building next to the memorial and hopes to turn the annex into an interactive museum.

The centerpiece of that memorial, though, is the names etched in stone. Two of them belong to Medal of Honor recipients: Marines Thomas Creek (who died in Vietnam) and Charles Roan (who died in World War II). They all are your brothers.

You’re all heroes. We owe you eternal thanks because you paid your last full measure of devotion to the nation we all love.

Show us the bone spur records, Mr. POTUS

Bob Kerrey has pitched a perfectly logical notion for the president of the United States, who has been plagued by doubters who question his assertion that “bone spurs” kept him out of military service during the Vietnam War.

Show us the medical record, Mr. President. That is the suggestion offered by Kerrey, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Nebraska. Oh, I also must point out that Kerrey is a former Navy SEAL, a Vietnam War combat veteran and a Medal of Honor recipient who lost one of his legs fighting the enemy during that horrible time.

Bone spurs don’t heal themselves, Kerrey said. You need surgery to repair them. The president has never mentioned surgery.

The bone spur issue keeps recurring because Trump keeps yapping about military matters in ways that bring these questions to the forefront.

Such as his ongoing and crass attacks against the late Sen. John McCain, the former Vietnam War prisoner who died of cancer this past August. Trump once denigrated McCain’s POW status, saying he was a “hero only because he was captured.”

Trump got several medical deferments during the Vietnam War. He has cited bone spurs. Well, just like the tax returns he keeps saying are under audit by the Internal Revenue Service, he has not provided a shred of evidence that he even had bone spurs; he also hasn’t produced a letter by the IRS declaring that it was auditing his tax returns, which he said has precluded him from releasing those returns for public review.

The president also reportedly told his former lawyer/confidant Michael Cohen that he had no intention of going to Vietnam. “Do you think I’m stupid?” Cohen said Trump asked him. Kerrey has taken offense at that notion, saying that Trump “sees all of us who went to Vietnam as fools. We were the suckers. We were the stupid ones. We were the ones that didn’t have the resources to be able to get out of the draft.”

Kerrey said this, as reported by the Huffington Post: “While John McCain was flying combat operations in Vietnam, you were, I think, falsifying that you had bone spurs in order not to go to Vietnam,” said Kerrey, a 1992 presidential candidate who retired from the Senate in 2000. “Now I know lots of people who avoided the draft, but this isn’t what he’s saying. He said ‘I physically couldn’t go,’ Well, Mr. President, get your feet X-rayed and let’s see those bone spurs. I don’t think he has them.”

Frankly, neither do I.

A more fitting memorial honors a hero

CLAUDE, Texas — A little more than 74 years ago, a 21-year-old U.S. Marine was engaged in a ferocious firefight on a Pacific Island. Enemy troops lobbed a grenade at his position.

The Marine threw himself onto the grenade. It exploded, killing him. The Marine’s bravery and valor, though, saved the lives of four comrades and for that single heroic act, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Charles H. Roan is a hero forever. His hometown of Claude not many years ago erected a memorial in PFC Roan’s honor. It was damaged by someone, either accidentally or on purpose. I wrote about that memorial in an earlier blog post.

I want to share this brief item, along with the accompanying picture, to show you how the community has erected what I consider to be a more fitting and lasting memorial to its son, the Marine, the hero who gave his full measure of devotion during World War II.

The Charles B. Roan Veterans Memorial sits on the south side of U.S. Highway 287 as you enter Claude from the west. It contains memorial bricks that comprise a walkway into the memorial; the bricks are engraved with the names of other veterans.

Roan, though, earned this tribute through what the Medal of Honor citation calls his “intrepidity.”

I am glad the community responded in this fashion, by honoring Charles Roan — and all veterans — in the first place and by erecting a strong and stable memorial that will honor this young man’s heroism … I hope forever and ever.

Semper fi.


Once again, here is the text of the citation awarded to PFC Roan’s family by President Truman.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese Forces on Peleliu, Palau Islands, 18 September 1944. Shortly after his leader ordered a withdrawal upon discovering that the squad was partly cut off from their company as a result of their rapid advance along an exposed ridge during an aggressive attack on the strongly entrenched enemy, Private First Class Roan and his companions were suddenly engaged in a furious exchange of hand grenades with Japanese forces emplaced in a cave on higher ground and the rear of the squad. Seeking protection with four other Marines in a depression the rocky, broken terrain, Private First Class Roan was wounded by an enemy grenade which fell close to their position and, immediately realizing the imminent peril to his comrades when another grenade landed in the midst of the group, unhesitatingly flung himself upon it, covering it with his body and absorbing the full impact of the explosion. By his prompt action and selfless conduct in the face of almost certain death, he saved the lives of four men. His great personal valor reflects the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his comrades.

This ceremony is worth watching … over and over

President Barack Obama took a few minutes out of his busy day this week to hang a medal around the neck of an 86-year-old hero.

The hero’s name is Charles Kettles. Nearly 50 years ago — yes, 50 years — Kettles found himself in the middle of an intense fire fight in Vietnam.

Kettles, an Army pilot, already had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his effort to rescue his fellow soldiers, flying them out of the landing zone to safety.

But someone in Ypsilanti, Mich., where Kettles lives, heard about the story and worked for five years to ensure that Kettles received the nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor.

This video tells the story. It’s moving. It speaks to one man’s humility, which as I’ve long believed speaks to the fundamental character that all true heroes share.

The event also enables us, as the president noted, to honor the “basic goodness” of Americans. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks,” the president said.

Indeed it has … which helps make this presentation so meaningful.

Thank you, Lt. Col. Kettles.