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Today's Medal of Honor Moment for 18 October

This is an unusual day for the Medal.  And a good day.  There is only *one* Medal awarded for actions on this day - and the recipient lived to receive his Medal!

I've ranted a bit in this space about the Medal of Posthumous Honor, and how it seems at times that we are inexorably moving to a point where if you don't die, you can't earn the Medal.  Oh, it's nothing that obvious, nor is that the intent.  But I do think, in an attempt to protect the Medal, we keep raising the bar, and perhaps inaptly so.  Some statisitics to illustrate - and no, this isn't high quality controlled analysis - I know that.

From WWI to right now, there have been 990 Medals awarded, 563 were posthumous - 57 percent.

From WWII to the present, 848 Medals have been awarded, 524 posthumously - 62 percent.

From Korea to the present, 385 have been awarded, 257 posthumous - 67 percent.

In the first 50 years of the Medal's history - 98 percent went to living recipients.  There are many reasons for this, not least among them was that the whole concept of medals like this was new, and it just didn't occur to people to award them to dead men. 

When I graduated from high school, there were 293 living recipients of the Medal. 

In July 2008, the Census Bureau reported the population of the United States to be 304,059,724 people. 

Only 95 of them hold the Medal of Honor.

Sadly, while today's recipient lived to recieve his award, he's no longer with us, having passed to Fiddler's Green in 1996.

WWII
THOMPSON, MAX

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company K, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Haaren, Germany, 18 October 1944. Entered service at: Prescott, Ariz. Birth: Bethel, N.C. G.O. No.: 47, 18 June 1945. Citation: On 18 October 1944, Company K, 18th Infantry, occupying a position on a hill near Haaren, Germany, was attacked by an enemy infantry battalion supported by tanks. The assault was preceded by an artillery concentration, lasting an hour, which inflicted heavy casualties on the company. While engaged in moving wounded men to cover, Sgt. Thompson observed that the enemy had overrun the positions of the 3d Platoon. He immediately attempted to stem the enemy's advance single-handedly. He manned an abandoned machinegun and fired on the enemy until a direct hit from a hostile tank destroyed the gun. Shaken and dazed, Sgt. Thompson picked up an automatic rifle and although alone against the enemy force which was pouring into the gap in our lines, he ??fired burst after burst, halting the leading elements of the attack and dispersing those following. Throwing aside his automatic rifle, which had jammed, he took up a rocket gun, fired on a light tank, setting it on fire. By evening the enemy had been driven from the greater part of the captured position but still held 3 pillboxes. Sgt. Thompson's squad was assigned the task of dislodging the enemy from these emplacements. Darkness having fallen and finding that fire of his squad was ineffective from a distance, Sgt. Thompson crawled forward alone to within 20 yards of 1 of the pillboxes and fired grenades into it. The Germans holding the emplacement concentrated their fire upon him. Though wounded, he held his position fearlessly, continued his grenade fire, and finally forced the enemy to abandon the blockhouse. Sgt. Thompson's courageous leadership inspired his men and materially contributed to the clearing of the enemy from his last remaining hold on this important hill position.
 

2 Comments

Another one of those 'connections' I keep seeing here now.  The 18th Infantry was created in May 1861, and in July 1916 a number of men were transfered from it to the 35th Infantry Regt, which is why the red acorn of the 18th coat of arms (CoA) also appears in the 35th CoA.  The red acorn is in the 18th CoA because that was the patch of the 1st First Division, 14th Corps, Army of Cumberland, of which the 18th was part.

BTW, I am really enjoying these medal of honor 'moments.'  Aside from the rush of pride one gets from reading about such Americans, this is a different way of categorizing/learning about the awardees and their units....  It slices the history longitudinally but not by unit or war, which is how I've read some of these before.  For example, the 18th regt. has a total of 12 MoH winners and knowing this gives one a feel for the unit contributions as a whole, but it removes the context, if you will. 

Another thing that has come to mind often while reading these is that these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the heroism and valor and fighting spirit of the Americans who've served in war.  Considering what it takes to get a MoH (especially in light of what John wrote about the raising bar), it stands to reason that for each of these awarded there must be hundreds or even thousands of instances of sacrifice and valor that are almost as amazing, and unquestionably not all get recognized with stars or crosses....

Sometimes it's just hard to take it all in, to really understand what it is about our nation that inspires people to this sort of thing.  It's more than just a warrior ethos, I think.  Men have been fighting wars since we climbed down out of trees, but no other country has as great a tradition of this kind of thing, of fighting for ideals, for notions, and as often doing it for other peoples than our own.  And now American women too, are taking the battle to the enemy, leading the charge to the sound of the guns....

Sometimes it's just impossible not to be utterly awed by it all.

 
Dude!  Yer ruining my book!

;^ )