DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
August 30, 1994

ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY

Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart selflessly gave their lives in an attempt to save fellow warriors during a fierce battle in Somalia last year.
When Michael Durant's aircraft was shot down, the two U.S. Army Delta Force warriors volunteered to jump from their hovering helicopter into the middle of a bullet-splattered hornet's nest.

On the ground, Gordon and Shughart pulled the crews' bodies out of the chopper and placed Durant, the only survivor, in a relatively sheltered position. Singlehandedly, the two commandos fought off hundreds of Somalia attackers, slugging it out in a High Noon Hell against overwhelming odds until they were gunned down.

Durant says, "I owe my life to these two men and their bravery."

Gordon and Shughart had to know jumping into that inferno was a one-way ticket to death. Yet a strong sense of duty and care for their fellow warriors, trapped inside the downed helicopter, overrode consideration of the high risk or any concern for themselves.

Both leaders believed in the Special Force's creed: "I WILL NEVER FAIL THOSE WITH WHOM I SERVE." These two heros were made of the stern stuff that has kept this country free since the beginning of our great republic.

President Clinton awarded Gordon and Shugharts' widows their Medals of Honor last May. He said at the White House ceremony ... " We honor them. We thank them. Their actions were clearly above and beyond the call of duty."

Only 3,420 Medals of Honor have been awarded since congress authorized the medal in 1861. Sergeants Gordon and Shughart joined a roll of distingueshed heros that include soldiers such as Audie Murphy, Jimmy Doolittle, Teddy Roosevelt Jr., Hiroshi Miyamura, Mitchell Red Cloud and Jim Gardner.

Yet, the US media gave more coverage to OJ Simpson's pistol sucking soujourn on the LA freeway than to these two fallen warriors. Real heroism apparently doesn't sell many newspapers or kick up the TV ratings like big name domestic violence and murder or rock star suicides.

Ask young Americans to tell you their heros. Most will name multi-million dollar a year sports figures, Hollywood actors or musical entertainers. Many scratch their heads and flat out say they don't have heros.

So real heros are out of season with most of our youth and sadly many of their teachers. A media addicted to sound bites, sensationalism and bottomline profits, spin, Hollywood glitz and parents who want to make their kids' trip less painful then theirs is producing a nation of gimme, gimme, gimme, I-want-it-now, easy riders. Most American youth want front row seats, but they don't want to pay the price of admission.

America's values and belief system have been corrupted in the rush to get to the rooms at the top. It used to be that getting there was as important as the goal. Now, damn the process that forges values: it's grab the goal regardless how you get there.

When I was a kid, we were encouraged to read biograghies, and history, and there were heros galore. My teachers taught me about Nathan Hale, Ben Franklin, Stonewall Jackson, Alvin York, Joyce Kilmer, Albert Einstein and Elliott Ness. We learned about such good men right after we pledged allegiance to the flag. My generation grew up wanting to be like the great heros we studied, and many got their chance during WW11, Korea, and when we explored space.

Retired Sergeant Major Leo B. Smith, Executive director of the Medal of Honor Society, believes our young people are not taught values such as duty, honor and country any more. The tough, three war veteran paratrooper says, "The values of America have gone to hell. Most kids don't respect the flag, hard work or the past patriots that made this country." He added bitterly, "And, it's their parents' and teachers' fault."

A nation that does not honor its heros and prays at the alter of superficiality will follow ancient Greece and Rome down the drain.

Fortunately, for all Americans, we still produce a few good men like Gary Gordon and Randall Shughart. They should become the standard instead of rich and famous imposters.