Last November 1, The American Spectator published an exclusive account of four American paratroopers who'd fought to thwart a massive al Qaeda kidnap-and-execution operation in the Iraqi city of Samarra.
Caught completely by surprise and outnumbered at least ten to one by heavily-armed fighters, the four young soldiers -- Sergeant Josh Morley, Specialist Tracy Willis, and then-Specialists Eric Moser and Chris Corriveau -- fought a pitched and protracted rooftop battle that left at least a dozen terrorists dead, and made the surviving Americans into heroes.
Sergeant Morley and Specialist Willis lost their lives in the encounter. Morley left behind an infant daughter he had never met.
After TAS broke the story, it faded out of the news for nearly seven months, with the only media mention of the harrowing event coming in an editorial by William Kristol and Dean Barnett in the Weekly Standard, which contrasted the bravery of these soldiers with the attitude of American diplomats who were making news at the time by very publicly refusing assignments to Baghdad.
The story of that rooftop battle came to life once again this past week when, on May 22, 2008, now-Sergeants Moser and Corriveau were presented with Distinguished Service Crosses by President George W. Bush for their heroism and gallantry under fire on that fateful morning nine months ago and half a world away. (A compilation of photographs and video interviews is available here).
According to the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry, the Distinguished Service Cross, which is second only to the Medal of Honor in the hierarchy of decorations, "is awarded to a person who while serving in any capacity with the Army, distinguished himself or herself by extraordinary heroism...while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.
"The act or acts of heroism must have been so notable and have involved risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades" (emphasis added).
As is obvious to all who have read or heard of their amazing story, the actions of Eric Moser and Chris Corriveau fit that description almost to a "T." As the military hierarchy from President Bush down has recognized, Sergeants Moser and Corriveau are heroes in every sense of the word -- not that you would get that impression from talking to them.
Both Eric Moser and Chris Corriveau are ordinary young men who, when the literal fight of their lives broke out with no warning whatsoever, reacted with such extraordinary focus, resolve, and reflexive action that they not only held off an overwhelmingly larger enemy force and managed to save their own lives in the process, but also succeeded in protecting the bodies of their fallen comrades from concerted efforts made by the attackers to claim at least one of those American soldiers' bodies as a prize.
The recognition these paratroopers have received is well deserved -- though in my personal opinion, as a veteran and as the reporter who repeatedly interviewed all participants and went over the situation that they faced, in the place that they faced it, so as better to understand those events before the authoring the story for TAS last fall, these young men are entirely deserving of the highest award that their country can possibly offer them: the Medal of Honor.
Recognition, though, does not take away the scarring effects of that battle, nor does it bring back from the dead those who were lost. In an interview with CBS News after President Bush presented him with his award, Corriveau honestly downplayed his own actions and their affects -- saying that, truly, "I almost wanted to die that day on the roof with my brothers."
With the President's attendance at the 82nd Airborne Division's "All-American Week" events, and his presentation of these awards to Sergeants Moser and Corriveau, the mainstream media has decided that their story is not only believable, but actually worth covering. However, as with all acts of bravery, and all actions that put something greater above one's self, neither recognition nor media attention is necessary to validate these young men's actions, nor to confirm that they are indeed heroes.
Having completed a fifteen-month combat tour in Iraq and returned to the United States in November, the 82nd Airborne is reportedly scheduled to deploy back to the Middle East this fall. When it does so, it will be short at least four soldiers.
Chris Corriveau, still scarred by the events that robbed him of his two best friends in the world, has said he plans to separate from the Army and attend college this fall.
Eric Moser attended the Special Forces Assessment and Selection course in April, and was selected to begin Special Forces training. In the fall, he takes his first steps toward trading in the maroon beret of a paratrooper that he currently wears for the Green Beret of an Army Special Forces soldier.
Josh Morley and Tracy Willis, who lost their lives during that fateful gun battle in Samarra last August (and who were posthumously awarded Bronze Star Medals for their actions), will always be cherished and remembered by those who knew them, as well as by those millions of Americans who value the risks and sacrifices our military men and women make in the name of their comrades and of our freedoms, often at the highest possible cost.