Below is an op-ed submission from Army Colonel Robert Howard (ret.), a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroism in Vietnam. It’s about how challenging times ask us to act selflessly and with courage – much like our veterans have done. Today is National Medal of Honor Day.
By COL Robert Howard (USA Ret.)
Medal of Honor Recipient
When I joined the military in 1956, I was like many young men my age who enlisted; I wanted to protect the ideals of this country and also build a career. Little did I know that my experiences would lead to a Medal of Honor, and how poignant those lessons would be even now—53 years later—during our current national hardship.
Just after Christmas in 1968, I was on a mission to rescue a missing American soldier in enemy controlled Vietnam. We had just left the landing zone when we were attacked and many of us critically wounded, including me. For the next three and half hours, I had one choice: to lay and wait, or keep fighting for my men.
If I waited, I gambled that things would get better while I did nothing. If I kept fighting, no matter how painful, I could stack the odds that recovery for my men and a safe exodus was achievable.
Today on National Medal of Honor Day (3/25) —an annual tribute that I and other recipients humbly appreciate—I encourage Americans to recognize that in untenable situations, selfless people make the difference.
The Medal of Honor has been awarded only 3,448 times since the Civil War, and I’m reminded regularly by my fellow recipients (only 98 are living today) that extraordinary things can be accomplished by ordinary people from all parts of America.
Hard times ask us to put a greater good before our own interests. It is sometimes physically or emotionally painful. Yet throughout history, you will find common men and women who fought selflessly in a variety of ways for something so much larger than just their own benefit.
Today, we’re fighting terrorism and the spread of tyranny. We’re challenged by market upheaval, joblessness and perhaps hunger. But the human spirit is resilient and can withstand more than sometimes we are able to immediately comprehend.
It’s up to each of us to not lay and wait for better days, but instead look for opportunities to make the lives of those around us better. National Medal of Honor Day is not a celebration. It is a solemn time to reflect on the freedom we enjoy, its price, and how our own bravery can improve the world around us.
COL Robert Howard (USA Ret.) is president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.