With the holiday season upon us, we are seeing more servicemen and women coming home for their 30 days of leave.
Some fly home from across the country just to see their families for that one special day. We will see them jogging through airports, anxious to meet up with their loved ones or attending mass with their family members. The thing that will stand out is that we will see our nation's best at their best they will wear their Class A or dress uniforms. Each branch will show off their best dress uniform, from the Army's Class A to the Marine Corps dress blues.
The uniforms worn by our fighting men and women are decorated with medals, ribbons and awards. Uniforms differ but the insignias all stand for acts of valor and devotion to duty. All servicemen and women have met the criteria required to display such emblems.
World War II, Korea and Vietnam saw new uniforms, and thus more and more piled up in our warehouses. There were separate uniforms for the women who joined the service, and this made for even more uniforms. The Navy had the Waves, the Army the WACs, the Airforce the WAFs, the Marines the WMs. Later, names changed. Wave became sailor, WAC became soldier, WAFs became airmen, and women Marines became, simply, Marines. By doing this, uniforms were simplified.
Military uniforms will tell you all you need to know about the people wearing them. To begin with, look at the shoulders and you can identify the rank and specific job the serviceperson holds. Then look down near the wrists, and you can see the hash marks, which tell you how many years of service the person has devoted. Next look at the front of the uniform, which bears the medals and ribbons given to that man or woman. These identify where in the world the person has served, if the person saw combat, their length in combat zones and any special services performed.
Medals and ribbons should not be bought and traded like cheap souvenirs. They are not "won." They are earned. Every military medal given to one or our servicemen or women is in recognition of accomplishment or hardship endured. These fine people have met criteria laid out by Congress. One can't be awarded a medal or ribbon simply because his or her commanding officer likes him or her, or because so many medals are passed out to each unit. No one has ever been awarded a Purple Heart just for being a great guy or gal!
Being in the military between the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the Gulf Wars, one saw very few, if any, medals awarded. However, back when the Vietnam War was raging, it was common for a high school graduate from New York to join the military in June and return home 19 months later wearing a National Defense Medal, a Vietnamese Service Medal, a Vietnamese Campaign Medal, a Cross of Gallantry Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation, a Navy Meritorious Medal and a Purple Heart. He might also receive the New York State Conspicuous Cross or Star, all for under two years of service. A Conspicuous Service Star is an award from New York state for any of its citizens who served in a combat zone. The Cross of Gallantry was awarded by the country of South Vietnam, which no longer exists.
Servicemen and women can also be decorated by medals that indicate skill with firearms. Medals are awarded for firing the M-16. A Sharpshooter's medal can be received in recognition of hitting eight rounds at a 12-inch bull's eye from 500 feet away. The same can be awarded for the .45 pistol. If a person hit six, he or she earns the Marksman badge.
In recognition of our servicemen and women for their dedication, service, and accomplishments, I have listed in order the top five medals that are awarded. The list starts with our country's highest award. This is the greatest honor a serviceperson can obtain from his or her government.
The Medal of Honor: Some call this the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award. It is only presented by the President of the United States in the name of our Congress. There are three versions of the Medal of Honor, designated for the Army, the Navy and the Airforce. The Marine Corps and Coast Guard fall under the Navy version. In our country's history, a total of 3,476 were awarded, of which 627 were awarded posthumously.
Distinguished Service Medal: There are three types of these as well. They are designated for the Navy, Army and Homeland Security. The Marine Corps and the Coast Guard fall under the Navy's category. Often referred to as the DSM, this medal is earned as a result of exceptionally meritorious service to the government in duty of great responsibility.
The Silver Star Medal: This is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.
The Bronze Star Medal: There are three types of Bronze Stars. The distinctions are labeled as Acts of Heroism, Acts of Merit and Acts of Meritorious Service, all while in combat zones.
The Purple Heart: This is awarded to those who have been KIA (killed in action) and for those who have been wounded in action by hostile enemy forces. In the event that the recipient has been killed in action, the Purple Heart is given to the soldier's primary next of kin. The Purple Heart is the oldest decoration still given to members of the United States Military. There is a National Purple Heart Hall of Honor located in New Windsor, N.Y.
Of all of the above five medals, only two come with additional benefits. Purple Heart recipients move to Category 3 in the VA and no longer have to pay copays for medicine.
Medal of Honor recipients receive a special monthly pension of $1,194 per month above and beyond any other benefit to which they are entitled. They also receive special entitlement on Space A Transportation (free transportation on military aircraft if seating is available). Enlisted recipients of the Medal of Honor receive a special clothing allowance, all commissary and military exchange benefits and admission to the U.S. Military Academy for their qualified children without needing to meet nomination quota requirements. They receive a 10 percent increase in all retirement pay, a Medal of Honor flag, and are allowed to wear their military uniforms at any time, as long as they follow military dress requirements. They are given special Medal of Honor license plates and receive the honor of being buried at Arlington Cemetery.
The above decorations are mostly associated with combat or combat performance of duties, keeping units ready and fit not only for combat, but ready to win combat battles. The word "combat," according to Congress, means engaging with enemies of the United States while in hostile areas.
The Dunkirk Historical Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum is loaded with the artifacts of local area veterans whose military decorations are displayed for the public to view. Visitors can see the medals presented to a Bataan Death March veteran, along Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipients.
Time and time again we hear sad stories about people who actually try to steal veterans' insignias and tell false tales of valor. Stories in military papers and magazines describe those who actually never spent one day in the military, yet sit with actual veterans and tell stories of their made-up military service. Some of these pretenders even go so far as to join service-related clubs, just to sit at the bar or club rooms and talk about the day they allegedly earned their Purple Hearts or Bronze Stars. They talk about Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Khe Sanh and the Gulf Wars, when in actuality, they have never worn government-issued uniforms or left the United States to serve their country.
This occurrence has upset so many servicemen and women that veterans are now forming groups to investigate those who dare to claim service and valor when they have no right to. Falsely claiming that he had won the National Medal of Honor got one such man fined $1,000 and a one-year jail sentence. The decision was challenged and went on to the Supreme Court, but the sentence was upheld. We now have the Lost Valor Act, and this keeps military pretenders in check.
Each veteran should be decorated and all should be treated with the same respect after they are discharged. Many veterans leave the military and never check to make sure they were awarded everything that they earned. A simple request to receive copies of all military records and awards only takes a few minutes. Many decorations and awards are given to veterans years after the veterans' duties have been fulfilled. It is important for veterans to advocate on behalf of themselves and make sure they have received all they have earned in their service to our country.
With our heroes returning for the holidays, it is likely that you will encounter one of them. You may see him or her on a bus or a plane. You may see him or her at church, in the grocery store or at a holiday concert. When you do, go up to this person and say thank you for his or her service. If he or she is in dress uniform, ask about the ribbons, medals and patches on their shoulders, sleeves and lapels. Ask these servicemen and women where they have served and where they are going next. If you are able to, buy them lunch or coffee as a small gesture of gratitude.
When we are all home for Christmas this month with our families, warm by the fire or sharing a hearty holiday dinner, remember that our military personnel may be hunkered down in fox holes or standing guard duty in places far from their own homes and families. They will be defending and protecting our country, keeping it free for the rest of us so that we may continue to enjoy our lives with our loved ones. For these men and women, knowing that you care and appreciate what they do for you means a lot. Keep them in your thoughts and in your prayers. They are all heroes, and this week, we honor all of them.