When a Lion Dies by Kelly Crigger
“How you doing today, Major?” an old guy in civie clothes says to me one afternoon in Afghanistan. I wasn’t surprised by the greeting as much as where it happened-in the JOC. My JOC. I was the JOC chief and some old guy had just invaded it like he was Josey Wales and even greeted me politely. Cheers to that, but my only thought was, “who let this guy in here?” Before I could utter as such, a small crest on his shirt that I immediately recognized as the Medal of Honor stopped me in my tracks.
Holy fuck, was about all I could get my mind to think before he shook my hand. “I’m good, Sir. How are you?” I replied, suddenly humbled.
His name was Robert Howard and he was about the studliest son of a bitch you’ll ever hear about. I call him a son of a bitch with the full reverence of a fellow soldier in complete awe of his accomplishments and because I know that’s what he would have wanted. He was the epitome of a grunt, selfless and patriotic, bereft of ego, and made of something few people (myself included) will ever know. He was a last vestige from the days of wooden ships and iron men and it wasn’t until his death a few weeks ago that I discovered he was the highest decorated soldier since WWII. Besides his MOH, he had two DSC’s, eight purple hearts, five tours of Vietnam, and a tossed salad of bravery that would make the real 300 Spartans at Thermopylae bow in deference. He was Vietnam’s answer to Audie Murphy, a man who displayed undaunted courage as frequently as the rest of us catch a cold.
Yet when cancer finally dragged him down like a pack of hyenas swarming an injured lion, he was relegated to the back pages of most newspapers, subjugated to the more important headlines of the day, like which of Tiger Woods’ new mistresses came out of the closet.
Are you fucking kidding me?
It’s no secret that entertainers are the apple of America’s eyes. It’s a necessary evil of being a secure, rich, strong country with nary an enemy on the horizon of the two oceans that protect us. We’re comfy and lazy and would rather hear about the balloon boy and Simon Cowell’s reduced role in the upcoming season of American Idol than pay respects to a man who was killing zips in the jungle while we were learning the phrase, “mommy…poop!”
As much as I’d like to throw contemptuous bags of shit at the walls of the New York Times, it’s really our own fault. Americans want to be entertained and we place those who provide our entertainment on a pedestal to be scrutinized on the same level as our elected leaders (which begs the question, why would you want that life?). When asked, the typical American teenager will list Brett Favre, Johnny Depp, and 50 Cent as their heroes instead of true leaders like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, or (God forbid) their own fathers.
I want to be angry that we worship actors (people who simply pretend to be someone else) instead of our brave warriors. But I can’t blame people who don’t have a care in the world when men like Colonel Robert Howard created it for them. I can only hope they get a healthy dose of perspective (preferably from their responsible parents) and realize America’s most precious asset is not Angelina Jolie in her Beverly Hills mansion, but Sergeant Angel Jiminez in his fighting position in Balad.
Brian Williams of NBC News says Howard leaves behind a grateful nation. Bullshit. Michael Jackson left behind a grateful nation full of weepy fans. Robert Howard left behind a small, yet very appreciative group of people who understood who he was and were proud to meet him, even if it was in a tent in Afghanistan on the eve of his passing. Rest in peace, Sir.