Courage in Combat

Courage in Combat

Stories By and About Recipients of the Nation’s Highest Decorations

Richard J. Rinaldo

Casemate, Philadelphia, 2017, 400 pages

Book Review published on: July 14, 2017

Richard J. Rinaldo, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and a former national commander of the Legion of Valor of the United States of America, offers a moving anthology about heroism under fire. Courage in Combat is a compilation of stories, articles, reflections, speeches, and poems written by and about recipients of our Nation’s highest awards—the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Air Force Cross. Rinaldo’s motivation in publishing this book is not one of fortune or fame. Rather, as described in the objectives of the Legion of Valor, his purpose is:

To cherish the memories of the valiant deeds in arms for which the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Air Force Cross are the insignia. To advance the best interests of members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America and to enhance their prestige and understanding by example and personal activity. To stimulate patriotism in the minds of our youth and to engender a national pride and interest in the Armed Forces of the United States.

Famed journalist Joseph L. Galloway, himself a recipient of the Bronze Star for his actions in the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, provides a short but powerful foreword. He concludes, “These are the stories of men who earned the nation’s highest awards, and men who earned no awards at all. They may not all be the Greatest Generation but by God they are the greatest of their generation.”

Rinaldo compiled over seventy entries written by members and friends of the Legion of Valor. Founded in 1890, the Legion of Valor is the oldest military service organization in the country. Their writings describe valorous actions by soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in all major wars since the Civil War. Some were familiar, such as the story of Medal of Honor recipient Theodore Roosevelt and his famous Rough Riders. His son also received the Medal of Honor for action in World War II. The Roosevelts are only the second father and son recipients; the others are Arthur and Douglas MacArthur. Most stories are not familiar, such as that of Pvt. 1st Class Desmond T. Doss, a Medal of Honor recipient who was also a conscientious objector, and whose story Hollywood recently told in the 2016 movie Hacksaw Ridge. Or, consider the story of Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman awarded the Medal of Honor for her service in the Civil War. Also consider the Prisoner of War Code of Conduct; its origin traces to input from Army Chaplain Father Emil J. Kapuan, Medal of Honor recipient for his actions during the Korean War.

Recipients of the Service Crosses are no less important when studying courage. Take, for example, Doris “Dorie” Miller’s heroic actions on the USS West Virginia during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Miller was the first African American awarded the Navy Cross for bravery. Or, consider the actions of then Capt. Barry McCaffrey, who was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry in Vietnam. Rinaldo includes an exchange of letters between McCaffrey and one of his platoon sergeants, Dan Garcia. In a few short pages, the letters offer telling insights into close combat, leadership, and courage. Finally, consider the actions on 20 December 1943 of Lt. Charles L. Brown, a B-17 pilot of the 527th Bombardment Squadron. Despite a severely damaged aircraft, only two of four operational engines, temperatures at 75 degrees below zero, and unrelenting enemy attacks on his aircraft, Brown commanded his aircraft to mission success. Brown received the Air Force Cross for his actions.

The entries Rinaldo includes are moving, motivating, awe-inspiring, from the heart, and replete with examples of commitment to country, mission, and fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. He set out to highlight the best of members of the Armed Forces, to stimulate patriotism, and to engender national pride. He did so, hands down. It is, however, not the interesting pieces of history this book unveils that make it a must read for current and future members of the Profession of Arms. Rather, it is the nature of courage that the stories, articles, reflections, speeches, and poems reveal. It is the personal conduct of these heroes that we should understand and to which we should all aspire.

Book Review written by: David D. Haught, Fort Belvoir, Virginia