A Book for Memorial Day

Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty contains the stories and photographs of most of the living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The text is by our old friend Peter Collier, with an introduction by President Bush.
James Robbins of National Review describes the book; the following story is typical:

One is struck by just how young they look. One of them, Jack H. Lucas, had celebrated his 17th birthday five days before he hit the beaches at Iwo Jima. He had been a Marine truck driver in Hawaii when he stowed away on the USS Deuell in order to get in the action. On Iwo his unit fought a close struggle in a trench with a Japanese suicide squad. Two grenades landed near Lucas, and he dove on them to save his buddies. One failed to detonate; the other inflicted grievous wounds. Lucas was almost left for dead, but when his comrades were removing his dog tags he managed to wiggle his hand. He went through 22 surgeries, but made it back alive. When he was discharged in September 1945, he returned home and entered high school as a freshman.

Robbins adds this thought on the role of character in heroism:

Sometimes circumstances impose conditions of surpassing danger when life loses its nuances and complexity, when action is more important than deliberation. These are the moments when character comes to the fore. Such times are rarely predictable; one cannot plan for them, nor summon inspiration from dry wells when they arrive. Having the positive qualities of character ready when they are needed necessitates always having them. Most of us will never have to face situations as extreme as those described in this book, but we can draw inspiration from the men who lived through them, and received the recognition of a grateful nation.


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