Above and Beyond the Call of Duty
Last Friday my father published his first piece in what will now be a regular column in the LA Times. This piece is about US Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, the first man to win the Congressional Medal of Honor in Iraq, and about the people who are against the war, but claim to honor Smith anyway.
SFC Smith, as his citation says, was working on the construction of a POW holding area on April 4, 2003, in Baghdad, when his Task Force of a hundred men was attacked by a company sized (100-250 men) enemy force. Smith organized a defense of their position, fought the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the rescue of three men trapped in a damaged Armored Personal Carrier. Smith finally moved to man an exposed .50 caliber machine gun and continued to fire on the enemy until he was fatally wounded. The enemy attack was repulsed.
The Medal of Honor has always held a special fascination for me -- I’ve read hundreds of citations about men who ran into exposed positions to aid comrades, jumped on top of grenades, and single-handedly beat off enemy attacks. The citation will famously begin “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty…” and will often end, in the case of a posthumous citation, “He gallantly gave his life for his country.” Surprisingly enough, less than one in five of the more than 3,400 Medal of Honor citations are posthumous.
The following is one of the most remarkable citations I’ve read, awarded to Private First Class Gary W. Martini, who was killed in Vietnam in 1967:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Rifleman, Company F, Second Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division in the Republic of Vietnam. On 21 April 1967, during Operation UNION, elements of Company F, conducting offensive operations at Binh Son, encountered a firmly entrenched enemy force and immediately deployed to engage them. The Marines in Private Martini's platoon assaulted across an open rice paddy to within twenty meters of the enemy trench line where they were suddenly struck by hand grenades, intense small arms, automatic weapons, and mortar fire. The enemy onslaught killed 14 and wounded 18 Marines, pinning the remainder of the platoon down behind a low paddy dike. In the face of imminent danger, Private Martini immediately crawled over the dike to a forward open area within 15 meters of the enemy position where, continuously exposed to the hostile fire, he hurled hand grenades, killing several of the enemy. Crawling back through the intense fire, he rejoined his platoon which had moved to the relative safety of a trench line. From this position he observed several of his wounded comrades lying helpless in the fire swept paddy. Although he knew that one man had been killed, attempting to assist the wounded, Private Martini raced through the open area and dragged a comrade back to the friendly position. In spite of a serious wound received during this first daring rescue, he again braved the unrelenting fury of the enemy fire to aid another companion lying wounded only twenty meters in front of the enemy trench line. As he reached the fallen Marine, he received a mortal wound, but disregarding his own condition, he began to drag the Marine toward his platoon's position. Observing men from his unit attempting to leave the security of their position to aid him, concerned only for their safety, he called to them to remain under cover and through a final supreme effort, moved his injured comrade to where he could be pulled to safety, before he fell, succumbing to his wounds. Stouthearted and indomitable, Private Martini unhesitatingly yielded his own life to save two of his comrades and insure the safety of the remainder of his platoon. His outstanding courage, valiant fighting spirit and selfless devotion to duty reflected the highest credit upon himself, the Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
It is impossible for us to thank men like these enough for their service, but we can at least know who they are -- go to a Medal of Honor site and read a few citations; they make you proud to be an American.