Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Courage

Into the Jaws of Death
(Source)
"Military folks don't put it all on the line for the flag or patriotism or Mom and apple pie. They do put their life on the line for their comrades. That defines honor for me." - Juvat
"If I had known those bastards had taken off, I'd have been leading the pack!" - Corporal Charlie Goodrich, U.S. Army, 63rd Infantry Division
What is courage?

One of the best definitions for courage that I've ever seen is this:
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela
That first quote is from a comment made by Juvat on his Monday post, the second was from my late uncle, an infantryman in World War II, something he said to me when I guess I had pestered him enough about his Bronze Star award.

According to what I recall of the citation, my uncle's outfit had been taken under fire by the Germans and apparently he drove the Germans off single-handedly after a protracted fight in which the rest of his unit had either fled or been hit. From what I remember, the citation specifically stated that he personally had killed or wounded twenty of the enemy, near the end of the fight, his own weapon being either disabled or out of ammunition, he used a German weapon to keep fighting.

I was rather amazed, to say the least, at this display of heroism. But as my uncle put it, when the fight started he just did what he had been trained to do. He kept fighting until there was no one left to fight. He did say that he was pretty startled to find himself alone on the field. Which led to that quote above. He just hadn't noticed that the other guys had retreated.

Heat of the moment perhaps? The training kicking in? Both are pretty likely in my estimation. Though I've never been in combat, I have been in a few rather sticky situations where I was too damned busy to notice that things could have easily "gone south" if I hadn't have kept my cool and focused on just getting the job done. (Most of those situations involved what I'll call, "automotive mishaps.")

Any sane person facing combat is scared. Though for inexperienced troops, who have never seen combat, that fear is more along the lines of nervousness, wondering how they'll stand up to the test of combat. A major factor in combat is small unit cohesion. You're not fighting for any ideals, you're doing your job so you don't let the other guys in your outfit down. There's nothing worse in the military than being held in low regard by one's peers.

A person who does not fear combat is probably quite mad.
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. 
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed. 
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.” - Catch 22, Joseph Heller



28 comments:

  1. "There's nothing worse in the military than being held in low regard by one's peers."

    True. Easy to get there, nigh on to impossible to rectify. Much like dropping the F-Bomb in front of your mother.

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    1. Yup. One's only hope is to PCS to a base where no one knows you or knows anyone you've ever worked with. Which, given the smaller size of today's military, must be very hard to do these days!

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  2. Maybe I'm believing too much in the hype and mythology that surrounds Gen. Mattis, but I tend to think he's never actually been afraid of combat. Now then, he may actually be mad, but he seems sane to me.

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    1. Don't be taken in by the hype. But I'm sure that Secretary Mattis knows that an effective stratagem is to make the enemy more afraid than you are. He does that pretty well I think.

      And what Marine would ever admit to such a human frailty as fear?

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    2. Fear is strange, and affects men differently.

      There is the tearful warrior, who cries while fighting. But he keeps fighting. Full of sadness for the world, for himself, for his enemies. Fighting fear by letting it leak out.

      There is the angry warrior, one who shouts and rages to fight the fear, and the enemy. Beserkers are often this type. (And yes, we have beserkers today. If a beserker can learn to control his beserk, it makes him an awesome machine of death.)

      There is the solemn warrior, who fights the fear with no expression, killing his foes with a blank face. Stone face, others call these men, or Stonewall.

      There is the laughing warrior, who laughs and spits fear in the face. When he dies, he dies with a smile on his face. Some of the most feared fighters were laughing warriors. Andy Jackson, from all accounts, one. Viking tales are full of laughing warriors. These ranks are full of the "Oh, Hell, hold ma beer" warriors. Errol Flynn as Captain Blood or Robin Hood are the best film examples. Joyful fighting. Still fearful, but full of joy to be alive.

      I think the Warrior Monk is a laughing warrior.

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  3. I remember the apprehension, listening to the S-2 brief the enemy’s capabilities, worrying about executing our mission so as to negate the enemy’s abilities without losing too many of our own to them. Performing our duties so others above, adjacent, and below us were supported to the best of our abilities. Moving rapidly to the fighting positions in the early morning hours the night the air war started; watching the incoming fighter/bomber at very low level passing directly overhead at high speed and resigning my soul to God thinking it was an Iraqi Mig…and then I realized it was an F-15 returning from a mission and could breath again. Moving from fighting position to fighting position of my platoon and talking with the Soldiers; most were good but a couple were shaking so badly their M16s were bouncing off of the sandbags…talking calmly to them, bringing them down off the adrenaline rush and getting them to just breathe. What helped me cope was being responsible for others. Being a few years older than usual for my rank also helped. Follow your training and do your duty and the odds are with you. Not guaranteed, but improved.
    Side note: my grandson graduated USAF basic and as of yesterday is at Sheppard AFB beginning training as an F-15 tactical aircraft maintainer. Before he departed, I emphasized to him the importance of the job he volunteered for; as a former ground-pounder I was always grateful for overhead air cover keeping the enemy away from us. How he should pick the brains of his NCOs to learn what is not in the books about maintaining the aircraft. My grandson may not be standing ankle deep in mud as his father (former USMC) or me (USA) did but he’ll be out on a flight line in the heat/cold/wet/snow and whatever foul weather can come his way. He volunteered for a tough job in which he should excel and it makes me proud. - Barry

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    1. Barry:

      Please tell your grandson that I honor him for his service.

      Paul L. Quandt

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    2. Sounds like you were a damn fine leader Barry.

      As a former Phantom maintainer, your grandson is really entering an honorable and valuable line of work. Without the maintainers, all those pretty airplanes are just expensive static displays.

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    3. Yes, and what Paul said too.

      Sounds like your family is one of those for whom service is a tradition and a duty. I salute you all!

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  4. I am thankful that in my years of service, I was never under fire. However, it still leaves me wondering how I would have reacted.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  5. I recall reading about a troop transport that was torpedoed mid-Atlantic during WWII, at night. The chaplains on board moved calmly among the troops, doing their best to clam fears and stem panic. A terrified young soldier turned to one of them and said "Father, I don't have a life jacket!". The chaplain said "Here, take mine.". Several of those chaplains are still with that ship.

    Courage, and faith. Powerful stuff.

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    1. I've heard that story. Good men, faithful unto death.

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    2. Book marked and written down on paper. Thanks, Scott.

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  6. To pile on what Paul said, Praise be. The lead-in picture is one that I see when I hear The Star Spangled Banner. To ride that small boat in and have the ability and the will to go knowing what awaits defines heroism to me. May those who were there, surviving or not, be blessed.

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  7. Hey OldAFSarge;

    I recall a quote attributed to John Wayne "Courage is being scared and doing the right thing anyway". Good article :)

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  8. It's what makes the muskrat guard his musk!

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  9. Wizard of OZ reference, from the Cowardly Lion's song.

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