Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Honor Without Bias

A Texas high school dropout and short-order cook stormed and singlehandedly destroyed four armed bunkers in the jungle of Vietnam. His valor was recognized, but his heroism didn’t merit the Medal of Honor because he is a Latino.

Screen-Shot-2014-03-12-at-10.42.08-PMToday, more than 40 years later, 68-year-old Santiago Erevia, along with 23 other veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, will receive the recognition they earned in battle without regard to their race or ethnicity.

It took nudging by Congress and a presidential review to discover the oversleight of these military heroes, all but three of whom are already in their graves.

In the land of the free, we expend great energy to protect the right to bear arms, but pay too little attention to those who bear arms in our name in foreign wars, risking injury and death, often because it’s the best bargain they have to make something of their lives.

Erevia joined the Army because he ran out of options. After his military service, he earned a GED and went to college. Eventually, Erevia went to work for and retired from the U.S. Postal Service. He never complained about not receiving the nation’s top military honor. Like many veterans who experienced battle, especially hand-to-hand combat, Erevia says the real heroes are the soldiers who never came back home.

When a man or woman puts on a military uniform, does their religion, race, gender or sexual orientation really matter? If they are shot, they bleed. If they are injured seriously, they can die. If they survive, shouldn’t they be celebrated with the same embrace and collective thank you upon their return, not faced with a blast of discrimination?

martingrab3Honor is a very personal matter. It can be achieved anywhere, by anyone. When honor is displayed on a field of battle, that heroism shouldn’t be judged through the lens of bias. Crawling on the ground in the face of automatic rifle fire and grenade shrapnel to take out an armed bunker takes more than just a sense of duty.

When someone joins the military to improve his or her station in life, knowing it probably means overseas deployment and a face-to-face rendezvous with danger, it represents a type of courage most of us never face in applying for a job or learning a new skill.

You don’t have to like war to love warriors. Their return to everyday society, as evidenced by a painfully large number of suicides, is not an easy transition. That transition shouldn’t be made harder because you have black skin, wear a yarmulke or speak Spanish.

The ceremony this week in the White House honoring these veterans of war and prejudice will inspire African-Americans, Latinos and Jews. It should inspire all of us.

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