On Jan. 16 the Idaho Statesman reported that the U. S. Army is considering whether or not an Idaho veteran, Bowe Bergdahl of Afghanistan fame, should receive two medals in connection with his service in that country, one of them the Purple Heart.
Can the Army be unaware that, as reported in the Statesman three days earlier, a specially convened 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined, in a case involving another Idaho veteran, that his wearing unearned medals, in that instance also the Purple Heart, was a legal expression of constitutional “free speech,” (upholding an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision). Thus, it does not matter what might or might not be officially awarded — either of these gentlemen, or, indeed, anyone can sport any sort of military honors they please. It is, after all, “free speech.” Our judicial system says so.
Traditionally, our Armed Forces have recognized service beyond the norm, performance above and beyond the call of duty, with decorations depicting the value to our country of such service. To condone through the federal judicial system the display of such honors by whatever Tom, Dick, Harry or Harriet who has or has not worn a uniform, much less been singled out for such recognition, makes a mockery of the entire system and the concept it represents. Such is an insult, not just to Idaho’s veterans but to all those who have been honored by receipt of these physically small but profoundly meaningful tokens.
The decoration singled out in both these instances only adds to that insult. The Purple Heart is awarded “in the name of the President” to those wounded or killed while serving in the United States military establishment. It bears on its face the depiction of George Washington, at whose direction it was initiated, the oldest military award given to service members. With this legalistic “interpretation” of constitutional free speech, these jurists have now spit in the faces of all those so honored, those who literally have bled in the defense of that Constitution.
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Supreme Court or no, these esteemed jurists, at the very least, should be required to personally visit the amputee wards of VA hospitals and explain that, given their legalistic erudition, the medals, bestowed with such honor to those patients — and hence the sacrifices that earned them — are really only so much tinsel and tin, equating to nothing more than prizes to be found in a box of Cracker Jack.
S. Kent Carnie, lieutenant colonel, retired, United States Army, lives in Boise.