Hidden Heroes

(AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
The reports from Iraq and Afghanistan come to us stateside with a troubling monotony of body counts and acronyms, like "IED," that we'd rather not know.

It's difficult to report over there, and it's also extremely difficult to find "good news" stories that can compete with the harrowing tales for news merit.

But who knew the military was actually making the search for "good news" more difficult?

That's what's happening, according to a story in today's Baltimore Sun:
Three American soldiers were awarded Silver Stars for valor in [a battle detailed in the story]. Their actions are detailed in official Army accounts drawn from eyewitness reports, radio transmissions and other corroborating evidence used as a basis for awarding the medals.

These one- or two-page "narratives," as they are called, are the best accounts of American battlefield heroism. Apart from those who wear the Silver Star - the third-highest decoration for valor - few people even know the accounts exist.

But the Army won't let you read any Silver Star narratives. Though most are not classified, they are kept filed away from public view, a practice being challenged in Congress.
The practice of keeping these war stories secret – which a veteran of the battle mentioned in the piece called "absurd" – is defended by Army lawyers, who say releasing such stories "could subject the soldier and family to increased personal risk."

But if that is the case, then why does the military release the names of the award recipients at all? Right now, the military men get their name in the paper but we are left in the dark about the reasons why. Which even less sense than the military ban on photographing the caskets coming back to Dover Air Force.

I attended a military holiday party over this past weekend, and was surrounded by men and women who had served in the most dangerous spots on the planet. Each and every one of them was uncomfortable telling their stories, seeing it as unnecessarily self-serving. They were just doing their job, they'd say.

Their stories need to be told by someone, though. Which is why these narratives need to be opened up to the rest of us. It's difficult to hear people complain that of too little good news coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan when the military is actively suppressing such brave tales.

We deserve to know. And they deserve to be recognized for their superlative acts.
  • Matthew Felling

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