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Purple Heart Seamen

By Philip N. Ledoux
September 21, 2005

Re: and

Subject: A recent posting on main events page prompted this "story"


I must comment on the developing mind and the wisdom of age; vs the looking down of one upon the other. The letters in: "The Few, The Proud, The Psychotic" prompted this reply.

You know that my military was Navy. And in that “Canoe Club” it is rare to find even a captain with wisdom of handling human beings. I was assigned under one of those rare individuals which I used as a bellweather to compare other men to. So many of “rank” look down upon what they consider to be lacking in their expertise, be it “spit and polish”, patriotism, outlook on life, or whatever. I had been assigned from a big nuclear missile sub to a submarine tender that was being updated to handle nuclear subs, my job would be fairly obvious so I’ll save you the agony of my boasting for paragraphs.

Transitioning to “spit and polish” was difficult for myself. At inspections that involved big wigs I had received a few “dressing downs” for what I thought was a near perfect uniform. This day we were having “the works” and I was beside a fellow technician who in reality had a perfect uniform but his posture could draw attention. Some inspecting officer with enough brass on his shoulders to weight himself down, started chewing ass on this fellow. The fellow saluted smartly, informed the officer that he would return promptly, and marched stiffly away. The officer was totally confused, but stood there and waited.

Sorry that I didn’t give you the background sooner. This fellow had been the “captain” (I think the proper term is coxwain) of a landing craft. He had made many a landing in the Pacific. On bringing in a load of soldiers, he assumed his division officer knew the tides and it was reported rising. He dropped anchor to pull himself back off the beach, dropped the bow and his crew of men were off and running in a hail of bullets. His problem was that the tide was going out and he was stuck high and dry. He joined the men he had discharged at Okinawa. That invasion is nothing like the history books tell us. As you know that’s were the famous statue of the flag raising by soldiers originated. It was pure hell all the way. The Japanese were fanatically dug in. This fellow was locked with the troops on the beach for 7 days under continuous small arm and mortar fire. When you woke someone up to relieve you when you were ready to drop, you first wrapped your hand over the guy’s mouth and then woke him up. The enemy was that close! When I knew the fellow, he had been “cross trained” into electronics. A fair technician, reliable, but very different. Anyone new in the division, he would make friends with to warn them not to touch him or come up behind him; he just might kill them – left over reactions of being locked down on that Okinawa beach. He also had developed a muscular spasm that would jerk his whole body. The docs told him he’d have to learn how to live with it. Back to where I left off.

This fellow returned promptly stood in ranks back beside me, stood at attention. The highly pompous officer’s eyebrows raised skyward, took a snappy step backwards, gave a snappy, proper salute to this fellow, who returned it, and promptly marched away never completing his inspection. Just in case you publish this, an explanation is needed for your civilian readers: Purple Hearts are rarely given in the Navy, and this fellow had gone to his locker, extracted his Purple Heart award (for Okinawa events), pinned it on properly, removed all his other ribbons and returned to the inspection. He had had a full chest of ribbons, these now conspicuously missing with only the Purple Heart drew attention to it. Protocol is that when ANYONE meets a military man wearing a Purple Heart, he is saluted by others FIRST regardless of rank, be it a seaman or an admiral. The wearer then returns the salute. We were kind of friends and later he explained to me: I never wear that thing, it embarasses me somewhat, but that asshole needed to be taken down several notches. It was only the 3rd time he had worn the horribly earned award.

If only there were something similar for wisdom and unseen bravery. Hmmm. Although I find that most people recognize it quickly as they mature in the middle ages of life.


Philip N. Ledoux

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