The Medal of Honor winners
...There is much more.
I talked to James Livingston of Mount Pleasant, S.C., a Marine, a warrior in Vietnam who led in battle in spite of bad wounds and worse odds. I told him I was wondering about something. Most of us try to be brave each day in whatever circumstances, which means most of us show ourselves our courage with time. What is it like, I asked, to find out when you're a young man, and in a way that's irrefutable, that you are brave? What does it do to your life when no one, including you, will ever question whether you have guts?
He shook his head. The medal didn't prove courage, he said. "It's not bravery, it's taking responsibility." Each of the recipients, he said, had taken responsibility for the men and the moment at a tense and demanding time. They'd cared for others. They took care of their men.
Other recipients sounded a refrain that lingered like Taps. They felt they'd been awarded their great honor in part in the name of unknown heroes of the armed forces who'd performed spectacular acts of courage but had died along with all the witnesses who would have told the story of what they did. For each of the holders of the Medal of Honor there had been witnesses, survivors who could testify. For some great heroes of engagements large and small, maybe the greatest heroes, no one lived to tell the tale.
And so they felt they wore their medals in part for the ones known only to God.
In a brief film on the recipients that was played at the dinner, Leo Thorsness, an Air Force veteran of Vietnam, said something that lingered. He was asked what, when he performed his great act, he was sacrificing for. He couldn't answer for a few seconds. You could tell he was searching for the right words, the right sentence. Then he said, "I get emotional about it. But we're a free country." He said it with a kind of wonder, and gratitude.
And of course, he said it all.