Old sol­diers who didn’t fade away

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

More than 150 years af­ter he gave his life at Get­tys­burg lead­ing the ef­fort to re­pel Pick­ett’s Charge, 1st Lt. Alonzo H. Cush­ing is fi­nally on track to get the Medal of Honor af­ter Congress last month ap­proved waiv­ing the time limit for the na­tion’s top mil­i­tary honor.

The waiver was one of a half-dozen in­cluded in the mas­sive de­fense pol­icy bill — leg­is­la­tion that also be­gan to tweak the Medal of Honor sys­tem, stan­dard­iz­ing the amount of time a nom­i­na­tion may be con­sid­ered and re­mov­ing a cap that, in re­cent years, had said no­body could win the medal more than once.

In the case of Cush­ing, Congress’ ap­proval puts him over a ma­jor hur­dle. Now he must clear a re­view by the De­fense Depart­ment, which has ex­pressed sup­port, and then one by Pres­i­dent Obama.

“Hav­ing mem­bers of both par­ties in both Houses com­ing to­gether to rec­og­nize Lt. Cush­ing’s valor is amaz­ing,” said Dave Krueger, one of those who has picked up the ban­ner to fight for Cush­ing. “It has not, nor should it be, an easy process. The story of Lt. Cush­ing is so com­pelling that our leg­is­la­tors have cleared the way for the pres­i­dent to award him this na­tion’s high­est mil­i­tary honor.”

It’s un­clear why Cush­ing wasn’t awarded the medal in the 1800s.

Those above and be­low him in rank both earned it, in­clud­ing Gen. Alexan­der S. Webb, who led the over­all de­fense against Pick­ett’s Charge and gave per­mis­sion for Cush­ing to ad­vance, and Cush­ing’s own trusted Sgt. Fred­er­ick Fuger, who held up the wounded Cush­ing so he could see the bat­tle­field and served as the lieu­tenant’s mega­phone, call­ing out the or­ders Cush­ing could only whis­per be­cause of his two in­juries.

Cush­ing died on the Penn­syl­va­nia bat­tle­field of a third in­jury.

Now that the Cush­ing nom­i­na­tion is of­fi­cially pend­ing, the Pen­tagon would not com­ment on his chances, nor those of the five other troops from long-ended wars in Viet­nam and Korea whom Congress also made el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive the Medal of Honor or the Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Cross, which is the sec­ond-high­est honor for a sol­dier.

Pen­tagon of­fi­cials did say, how­ever, that they asked for two of the changes that could af­fect cur­rent troops.

In one change, the law now al­lows ser­vice mem­bers to earn mul­ti­ple Medals of Honor if their ac­tions merit it.

“Given that the Medal of Honor is our na­tion’s most pres­ti­gious mil­i­tary dec­o­ra­tion, the depart­ment be­lieves that a mem­ber who per­formed a sub­se­quent act jus­ti­fy­ing award of a 2nd Medal of Honor should be rec­og­nized with a 2nd Medal of Honor,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Congress last month voted to waive the time limit for sev­eral high-level dec­o­ra­tions for vet­er­ans of the Civil War and the wars in Korea and Viet­nam. Here are the three men Congress made el­i­gi­ble for the Medal of Honor. The Pen­tagon will now re­view their cases. Chris­tensen, spokesman for per­son­nel and readi­ness for the De­fense Depart­ment.

The other ma­jor change was to set a stan­dard time frame for all of the ser­vices. The law sets time lim­its for how long af­ter the com­bat ac­tion some­one can be rec­om­mended and awarded the medal, but the lim­its varied among the ser­vices.

Now, all of the ser­vices will have three years to make the rec­om­men­da­tion and five years to is­sue the award.

Congress can al­ways come in later and waive the time limit, as it did in the case of Cush­ing.

But the over­all Medal of Honor sys­tem came un­der scru­tiny af­ter Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, de­spite over­see­ing two ac­tive wars, didn’t award a sin­gle liv­ing per­son the high­est honor.

Rep. Dun­can Hunter, who served tours as a Ma­rine of­fi­cer in Afghanistan and Iraq, has pushed for medal up­grades for two Marines in par­tic­u­lar: Sgt. Rafael Per­alta, who was killed smoth­er­ing a grenade in Iraq, and then-1st Lt. Brian Chon­tosh, who with his Humvee tak­ing fire from a trench in the ini­tial days of the Iraq War or­dered his driver to head straight into the trench, and pro­ceeded to empty his ri­fle, his pis­tol, two dis­carded enemy AK-47s and even a dis­carded RPG, clear­ing the trench.

Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Mr. Hunter, said the de­fense pol­icy bill’s time-limit change does help, but there are other prob­lems with the award sys­tem that need to be cor­rected.

“The time per­mit­ted from rec­om­men­da­tion, to re­view, to award has al­ways been prob­lem­atic and pre­vi­ously ex­isted as one of sev­eral in­con­sis­ten­cies in a process that specif­i­cally in re­cent years, has not ad­e­quately rec­og­nized acts of com­bat valor,” Mr. Kasper said in an email. “But even with this change, the MoH process is still over­shad­owed by sev­eral high pro­file er­rors that have un­der­mined faith and con­fi­dence in the process.”

Mr. Kasper said the cred­i­bil­ity of the process rests now with De­fense Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel, who has told Mr. Hunter he will take another look at Per­alta’s case.

“If the sec­re­tary does the right thing and up­grades Per­alta’s Navy Cross, then much of the trust and con­fi­dence in the process that has been lost over the last decade will be re­stored,” Mr. Kasper said.

Peter Col­lier, au­thor of the book “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Be­yond the Call of Duty,” said the award process has be­come “very, shall we say, sen­si­tive” in the past 25 years.

Congress au­tho­rized the mil­i­tary to go back and look for mi­nori­ties who may have been over­looked, in or­der to try to cor­rect the record in in­stances when some­one was de­serv­ing.

As for the cur­rent de­bate, Mr. Col­lier said there has been a lot of pres­sure to try to find liv­ing re­cip­i­ents who should earn the medal for ac­tions dur­ing the war on ter­ror­ism.

In 2010, Staff Sgt. Sal Gi­unta be­came the first liv­ing re­cip­i­ent since the Viet­nam War.

“It was looked on … by the Medal of Honor com­mu­nity, as sort of a mir­a­cle,” Mr. Col­lier said.

In Oc­to­ber, for­mer Army Capt. Wil­liam Swen­son was awarded the medal af­ter a long de­lay that in­cluded hav­ing his pa­per­work lost.

Still, Mr. Col­lier said, the over­all sys­tem has held up well, and he cau­tioned against po­lit­i­cal changes. “This has been pretty damned good and the in­tegrity of it has been pretty solid,” he said.

Also in­cluded in the de­fense pol­icy bill is a di­rec­tive that the Pen­tagon re­view the pol­icy that pro­hib­ited those wounded in the Fort Hood at­tack from be­ing awarded Pur­ple Hearts.

Un­der cur­rent pol­icy, those wounded or killed were deemed vic­tims of work­place vi­o­lence, but some mem­bers of Congress say they should be con­sid­ered ca­su­al­ties in the war on ter­ror­ism and el­i­gi­ble for the Pur­ple Heart.

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