'The Best Damn Medal Writer in the U.S. Army'?

“A man does not use good iron for nails, nor good men for soldiers.” ~ Confucius

The New York Times, August 7, 2005, carries a story by Damien Cave entitled, “Where are the War Heroes?”

The intervention in Iraq, as in other American wars, has produced its share of heroic acts by both men and women. What is different is the way in which the political establishment chooses to handle these deeds, much to the “discouragement” of many in the military.

Unlike the declared war in 1941, our numerous interventions since then, now proclaimed as “preemptive” strikes against non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction, have drawn protests and divided the nation. Publicizing heroes means calling attention to the horrors of war. All of this is creating something of a legitimacy crisis for the Empire, and the whole mode of counterinsurgency warfare. Some military critics of the war such as William E. Lind, have tried to square the circle by attempting to develop what they have termed “Fourth Generation Warfare,” a sort of “kinder, gentler” Counterinsurgency Imperialist Interventionism.

The Times’ picture of Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier in World War II, reminded me of my friend and coauthor, Nathaniel Weyl, who died several months ago at the age of 94 (see the NYT Obit for May 8). To some extent, Nathaniel helped originate the legend of Audie Murphy. He is most remembered, of course, for his role in revealing Alger Hiss as a Communist, and for his book, Red Star Over Cuba (1960).

One day as we were working together on American Statesmen on Slavery and the Negro (1971), later selected by Choice, the library journal, as one of the ten outstanding history books of that year (Lew Rockwell was our editor), Nate showed me a clipping of an article from a Seattle newspaper, written by an old WWII buddy, turned columnist. As his literary executor, I have searched for that piece, but conclude that, if Nate kept it, it is among those papers he donated to the Hoover Institution some years ago.

The writer described Cpl. Weyl, scrawny, with helmet askew, as one of the most unlikely looking soldiers in the American Army. Nate had resigned his position as an economist in the Federal government to join the Army. His job was to write up the commendations for the medals given to the combat soldiers in the Third Division of General George S. Patton’s, Third Army.

One day, his superior, a Major Blossom (sp.?) in one of those large PR units, well described by Cave’s article, called Nate to his office. “Weyl,” he said, “as you are aware, we are the most decorated Division in the Third Army, and it is the most decorated among all of America’s fighting forces. Only one thing is missing. We must also have the most decorated soldier! He, must, however, be legitimate! Your job is to find him.”

As Nate dug through all of the records of heroism, many of which he had written up, two outstanding candidates emerged, whom he then interviewed. The first was a Captain, who was daring, but rather, in Nate’s assessment, seemed to enjoy war and killing. The problem was eliminated when the officer was killed in action, as Nate had imagined might occur.

That left a young enlisted man from Texas. Well, as we now know, it never hurts the cause of a real hero to have a good wordsmith writing up your commendations.

In fact, Nate told me Audie was quite modest about it all. In the film, “To Hell and Back,” he is shown for a short time out on a burning tank, filled with fuel, while in reality it was for a much longer time, with his buddies urging him to get off. Murph became a heck of a recruiter for the Army after he was wounded.

The contrast with Vietnam and today is stark. I recall in 1966 taking an Air Force recruiter to lunch. His table had been very much ignored by the Florida Atlantic University students. I told him I had led protests against our intervention there, but that I understood his situation, and wanted to learn what I could about what was really going on in ‘Nam.

After a couple of beers, he seemed to come emotionally unglued. I have no reason to doubt what he said was true. It seems he was the only survivor from a squadron ordered to take out a bridge, ordered by LBJ because it had been built by the French with Marshall Plan funds. Flying into that river valley meant facing thousands of rifles firing from the banks as the Vietnamese came to understand our intentions. The Air Force did not succeed in that mission.

I was left wondering, did the Air Force have any inkling of the feelings of this young pilot sent out as a recruiter? What if I had been an FAU student wondering about joining up?

Recruitment has become an increasing problem for the Empire these days, as the deceptions, going back many years now, are creating a growing crisis, in an American legitimacy, once believed by a great majority of our nation, and which was the fundamental source of a once real American Power. Gone are the days of heroic recruiters like Audie. And, it certainly didn’t hurt that Audie’s trip into Hell was written up by what I would suggest was the “best damn medal writer in the American Army,” my friend, Nathaniel Weyl.

August 8, 2005

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