25 March, 2006

Two Extraordinary Men

This week we said goodbye to two heroes, exceptional Medal of Honor recipients who distinguished themselves in service to our country: Desmond Doss and David Bleak. Both were medics--Doss in WWII and Bleak in Korea--though they took very different paths to the MoH.

A Contientious Objector due to religious conviction, Doss still wanted to answer his country when she called, so he enlisted as a medic and served with great honor. He was soon renowned throughout the ranks for his repeated feats of extraordinary courage when treating and rescuing his comrades. His actions were so astonishing that his MoH citation reads like a work of heroic fiction:

...a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 1 by 1 to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards of enemy forces in a cave's mouth, where he dressed his comrades' wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety.
And that's only just the beginning! Read it all, then visit Chaotic Synaptic Activity for the story of the role Desmond Doss' religious convictions played in his military service.

According to his family, David Bleak was a gentle giant of a man who was the kind of person those who knew him aspire to be. His son writes [scroll down], "Dave was a BIG man, and very strong. Also the kindest and gentlest man I have ever known. He lived his life with humblness and dignity." His daughter-in-law shares, "If my sons grow up to be a sliver of the man he was, I couldn't be more proud."

Like Desmond Doss, David Bleak was a medic. However, he distinguished himself not only for his courage and self-sacrifice under fire, but also for his combat heroics:
...he came under hostile fire from a small group of the enemy concealed in a trench. Entering the trench he closed with the enemy, killed 2 with bare hands and a third with his trench knife. Moving from the emplacement, he saw a concussion grenade fall in front of a companion and, quickly shifting his position, shielded the man from the impact of the blast. Later, while ministering to the wounded, he was struck by a hostile bullet but, despite the wound, he undertook to evacuate a wounded comrade. As he moved down the hill with his heavy burden, he was attacked by 2 enemy soldiers with fixed bayonets. Closing with the aggressors, he grabbed them and smacked their heads together, then carried his helpless comrade down the hill to safety.
As pointed out in comments at the link above, the composure, courage, and ingenuity Bleak displayed in dealing with the the trench soldiers and the bayonet charge was truly extraordinary.

Whether we consider ourselves lovers or fighters, these two men serve as avatars of duty, honor, devotion, and courage. The world is a poorer place now that they have left us, but the light of their service will remain for as long as we hold them in our memories.

Rest in peace, gentlemen... you've more than earned it.

H/T to Blackfive for the original news, and the links/trackbacks that resulted in this post.