A Real American Hero

Maybe you're like me, and find most things online a good excuse for a lengthy meandering around Wikipedia. Or maybe you're not, and you go straight to the information you want, pluck it like a ripe Winesap, and consume it at once.

Either way, I found something astonishing last night in the course of doing a little reading on the aftermath of last weekend's historic repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell, and I think you should know, regardless of how directed your online behavior might be.

Anyways, there I was, in the midst of a lengthy online discussion of just how shameful John McCain's final comments to the Senate on DADT actually were. Someone or other was offering an opinion about how McCain's service in Vietnam makes his opinion worthier than that of anyone (e.g., me) who hasn't served in the military; this person was to some degree simply duplicating a position that McCain himself has occasionally taken when dealing with those who favor repealing DADT, claiming (for example), that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff isn't a "military leader," and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was "a political appointee who's never served in the military," ignoring his two years in the Air Force (as well as his experience running the DoD under both Obama and Bush).

In any case, having seen this tired argument brought up by this repeal opponent, I shot back with a question (still unanswered by the individual in question, for what it's worth) about how he felt we should consider the opinions of those combat veterans who voted in favor of DADT repeal. I was thinking of folks like Jim Webb (a 'Nam vet with a son who's an Iraq veteran) and John Kerry, but I also recalled that Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) was a veteran and decided to do a little reading up on him as well.

Oh. My. God.

Inouye, a Hawaiian-born child of Japanese immigrants (a/k/a a "Nisei"), was born in 1924 and would have volunteered for military service following Pearl Harbor, but US policy wouldn't allow Nisei to serve. When this policy changed in 1943, he quit his medical studies (he wanted to be a surgeon) and joined the Army. He rose to the rank of second lieutenant during his next two years in the European theater--impressive in itself--but nothing compared to his actions attacking the Italian ridge of Colle Musatello.

If you follow the "OMG" link above, you'll learn the basics: that Inouye led his men up the ridge, where they were pinned down by three separate German machine gun positions. That Inouye was shot in the abdomen when he stood to throw a grenade at one position. That he stood up again anyway and took out the position with grenades and his own machine gun. That he refused treatment and led his men in a successful attack on the second position before he collapsed from blood loss.

That the wounded Inouye then crawled up to the third position, armed a grenade, and reared back to throw it. That a German in the bunker suddenly blew most of Inouye's right arm off. That Inouye waved off his men, fearing that the grenade would go off now that he couldn't control his right hand's grip.

That with his left hand, Inouye pulled the grenade from his dead right hand and threw it into the bunker.

That he staggered forward to the bunker and cleared out the last resistance with a gun held in his left hand, taking a wound to his leg in the process. And that his last order before he was hauled to safety was for his men to get back to their positions, as "no one called off the war." The remaining portion of his right arm was amputated--without sufficient anesthesia--at a field hospital before he went home for rehab (and met his future colleague Bob Dole, who has remained his friend ever since.) Inouye received a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, an award that was belatedly upgraded to the Medal of Honor, and went on to become Hawaii's first-ever Congressman.

In short, if there is still a definition of "heroism" in the OED, then I submit, ladies and gentlemen, that Daniel Inouye's portrait be placed beside it as an illustration. Since 1963, he has served in the Senate, where he is now the senior member and President pro tempore, and he had this to say about his most recent vote:

"Finally, all brave men and women who want to put on the uniform of our great nation and serve in the armed services may do so without having to hide who they are.  My only regret is that nearly 13,000 men and women were expelled from the military during the 17 years that this discriminatory policy was in place.   In every war we have had men and women of different sexual orientation who have risked their lives for their country.  I fought alongside gay men during World War II and many of them were killed in combat.  Those men were heroes.  And once again, heroes will be allowed to defend their country, regardless of their sexual orientation."

I respect the service of John McCain, who put his life on the line on America's behalf and who endured torments I probably cannot even imagine. But if he wants to make any claim that his service somehow nullifies the opinions of those who oppose him, or that the only people who differ with his views on DADT are elitist residents of Georgetown (And is one of your eight houses in Georgetown, Senator?) with no military experience, I invite him to look across the aisle at Daniel Inouye.

And I must admit to a shameful fantasy, though Mr. Inouye himself is far too gentlemanly to do anything as crude as I imagine. But I can't help imagining that, as McCain looks across that aisle, his brow furrowed in scorn for those who dare differ with the opinions of a War Hero, he sees the calm, smiling figure of Daniel Inouye, war hero and supporter of the American ideals of justice and equal opportunity, holding up the only middle finger he has left.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on December 21, 2010 1:23 PM.

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