The best words I’ve ever heard on the subject of medals come from a fellow lieutenant who’d been my company executive officer when I first arrived in Vietnam. The company came under mortar attack. Tom—all names given here are pseudonyms—then a platoon commander, had found a relatively safe defensive position for himself, but he stood up, exposed to the exploding shells, in order to get a compass bearing on where the shells were being fired from. He then called in and adjusted counterbattery fire, which got the company out of trouble. He was awarded the Bronze Star. When I heard the news and congratulated him, he said, “A lot of people have done a lot more and gotten a lot less, and a lot of people have done a lot less and gotten a lot more.”
Let me just state for the record, I’ve never gotten a medal for valor, or heroism or anything like that. And I never did anything valorous or heroic that might deserve a medal, either. I ended up with a pretty impressive fruit salad for someone who served in the time I did, but it was all “I was there” stuff.
Every man wants to be the hero of his own fantasies. We all have a picture of ourselves as rising to an occasion, of being braver than we are, stronger, smarter, more dedicated. Few of us are.
But as you can see from the author’s story, sometimes, if only for a little while, some men are.