THIS IS WHAT it’s all about. I am here at the national convention of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. This is a group that honors the men and one woman who have been awarded (never say “won”) the Congressional Medal of Honor. I was invited here to Denver to speak to these nice people because I write and speak so often about how much we owe the military.
The other primary honorees are Bob Dole, my neighbor at the Watergate, and Clint Eastwood, and my dream girl, Laura Bush.
There was a long cocktail hour where I spoke to many Medal of Honor recipients. My favorite was a guy who was working in a meatpacking plant in Illinois and was in the Illinois National Guard. He was sent to Vietnam to guard an airstrip.
One night he and his buddies were idling away the time when the Viet Cong attacked with mortars, grenades, and assault rifles. “I was buried by the explosion of the first mortar round,” he said. “Then I dug myself out and just started firing away at the guys crawling towards us. I could just see them crawling a few yards away and I just kept shooting. I got wounded four or five times and I just kept shooting and their bodies piled up and all of my men were wounded and I figured I was dead anyway so I had better keep shooting. And I did, and after a few hours, there just weren’t any more Viet Cong, and a helicopter came and took me away.
“I was in the hospital a few months and then I went back to working at the meatpacking plant. And next thing I knew, it was a couple of years later, and my foreman comes over to me and says there’s a call for me from the White House.
“So I go to somebody’s office and take the call, and it’s someone at the White House saying President Nixon wants me at the White House the next month to give me the Medal of Honor.”
“Amazing,” I said.
“So I went and it was a great ceremony and I shook the president’s hand, and then it was over.” “What did you do after that?” I asked. “I went back to working at the meatpacking plant,” he answered with some surprise. “What else would I do?”
This is what all of these guys were like. Modest. Down to earth. Humble. No bragging at all. NONE. Just, “I did what anyone else would have done. The brave ones didn’t make it back. The brave ones are buried. The brave ones’ bodies were never found.” That kind of thing.
One man summed up his feelings. “I didn’t do anything special,” he said. “I just stayed around to fight five minutes longer than the other guys. That’s what made all of the difference in this world.”
I met an astounding man whom I had read about. His name is Tibor Rubin. He was a Hungarian Jew. The Nazis put him in Mauthausen and his family in Auschwitz. He survived the war, just barely, and was liberated by American forces. He was deeply impressed by the “G.I. Joes” he met and wanted to be one. After years in a displaced persons camp, he came to America. He was a butcher, then joined the Army and fought with astounding courage in Korea. He single-handedly held off large assaults and saved many of his comrades. After one horrifying fight, he was captured and put in a North Korean prison. It was discovered that he was from Hungary. The North Koreans offered to send him home, a “free man” to Communist Hungary. He refused and stayed with his fellow prisoners. He used his survival skills from Mauthausen to scour for food and save many of the Americans from starvation.
Because of anti-Semitism by his superior officers, Tibor Rubin was not recommended for any commendations at all until 1996. Then, he was asked to accept the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was given to him by President George W. Bush. I grasped his hand (he was in a wheelchair) and kissed it. I told him I was blessed to be on the same planet as he was.
There were about a thousand men and women at the event. I sat between Clint and a super woman whose husband had been awarded the medal posthumously for his heroism in fighting from a helicopter behind Communist lines in Laos. He had died in 1969, I believe, and it had taken 30 years to find his remains. Then he was awarded the medal posthumously. There is no way to honor that man, his wife, his children, enough.
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