“If the MSM can find space to report on Ashlee Simpson’s nose job, or who Paris Hilton is dating this hour, surely they can find a few minutes of airtime and drops of ink to inform us about the incredible heroism and bravery of the guns in the fight,” says Wynton Hall.
Hall provides some of what the big news guys often don’t — the stories of our heroes — in the book he co-authored with former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Home of the Brave: Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror. He talks about our courageous servicemen and women, the book, and Cap, in an interview with NRO editor Kathryn Jean Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Is there something unfortunate about Tom Brokaw’s dubbing the WWII vets the “Greatest Generation”? There are a few pretty great generations of servicemen, and not just from that war.
Wynton Hall: Well, Tom Brokaw included an entire chapter on Cap Weinberger in his book, The Greatest Generation, so he got that much right. But there’s no question that our Vietnam and Korean War vets have never received a fraction of the honor and gratitude owed to them. One of things that Cap and I realized early on during the writing of Home of the Brave was just how passionate many of our Vietnam vets (our literary agents among them) were about our book for this very reason. They refuse to allow our current generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to be subjected to the derision and ingratitude they were. But Cap liked to say that this generation fighting the Global War on Terror is the “Next Greatest Generation,” and he meant it.
Lopez: How did you pick who wound up in your book?
Hall: That was, without question, one of the biggest challenges of writing a book like ours. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there are literally hundreds of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines whose heroic stories we could have recounted. Of course you’d never know it because the MSM refuse to cover them. Nevertheless Cap and I used three simple criteria: First, we were limited by issues of security; there were some stories we simply weren’t allowed to tell in the depth and detail we wanted to. Second, we tried to get a mix of stories from not only different branches but also different duties. As our liberal friends might say, we strove for “diversity.” So the book includes the stories of basic rifleman, tankers, hospital corpsmen, combat controllers, Green Berets, military police, etc. And finally, we chose stories which captured the human dimensions of warfare. We wanted to help civilian readers understand the military experience from the perspective of those who serve.
Lopez: What do the military families you talked to while writing this book think of media coverage of the war?
Hall: They’re disgusted and irritated. And they have good reason to be. From the very outset of our military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, many in the liberal mainstream media were set on doing everything in their power to portray American military power in the most negative terms possible. After a while I think we almost become numb to the monthly media outrages. Remember Peter Arnett? One month into the invasion of Iraq you had a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter going on state-controlled Iraqi TV to bolster the spirits of Saddam’s forces by declaring that our men and women in uniform had “failed.” Then it was CNN’s chief news executive, Eason Jordan, whose anti-military comments in Davos, Switzerland, surprised even liberal Congressman Barney Frank. Frank said that the news executive’s remarks “sounded like he was saying it was official military policy to take out journalists” through “deliberate killing.” Then it was the Newsweek “Koran flushing” massacre. Then we had the New York Times’ love affair with Abu Ghraib, wherein they ran over 50 front-page stories on the subject. Yet not one of the 19 heroes we profile in the book — not a single one — has had a front-page story in the Times devoted to the recounting of his brave actions. On and on and on it goes. If the MSM can find space to report on Ashlee Simpson’s nose job, or who Paris Hilton is dating this hour, surely they can find a few minutes of airtime and drops of ink to inform us about the incredible heroism and bravery of the guns in the fight.
Lopez: Is it fair to expect the media to focus on good news when things often are going not so good?
Hall: All that most conservatives and military families are asking for is that reporters be fair and balanc…okay, clearly I’ve been watching too much FOX News. Seriously, though, no one is out there saying reporters should wear rose-colored glasses and only file positive stories. All we’re asking for is basic fairness. We all understand that an explosion might make for more compelling visuals than, say, a report about the opening of scores of Iraqi schools or a water reclamation facility. Yet that hardly means these things aren’t worth covering. As several of those we feature in Home of the Brave told us, after a while, the constant drip of negative stories begins to erode morale. The good news is that leading milbloggers like Blackfive.net and Mudvillegazette.com and Michael Yon are providing us with a pipeline of positive stories that often go unreported.
Lopez: What’s the coolest thing you learned about our “unsung heroes in the War on Terror” while working on the book?
Hall: How grounded and thoroughly unimpressed our heroes truly are with themselves. For example, Special Operations Forces MSGT William Markham would rather talk about his charity golf tournament — the Whomper Stomper Open — to raise college funds for the children of his fallen SOF brothers than the time he and his 12-man team took out over 3,000 Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan just weeks after September 11th; SGT Marco Martinez is more interested in helping kids who are wrapped up in gangs like he once was than he is in talking about his frontal charge on a terrorist bunker armed with nothing but a depleted M-16 and a hand grenade, actions that resulted in the awarding of the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor; Green Beret LTC Mark Mitchell considers the hardest part of his war experience the letter he had to write to his then-one-year-old daughter in the event he didn’t make it home, not the epic David vs. Goliath battle between his 15-man Special Forces team and 500 al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners engaged in an uprising inside the ancient Qala-i-Jangi Fortress. In short, they’re regular guys and gals — except that they’re not.
Lopez: Any sense of what Iraqis think of these guys?
Hall: Here again, our guys reported a very different picture than the one Nancy Pelosi or John Murtha would have us believe. Corporal Armand McCormick, a man who along with his two brother Marines engaged in arm’s length combat with a swarm of 150 enemy fighters, said one of his favorite things to do in-country was play soccer with the Iraqi children. As CPL McCormick put it, “[Eighty] percent of the Iraqi people love you, they’re all about you. They want you to be here. They’re real thankful for you. And it’s not just the Iraqis, it’s the Afghanis, too.” In one of the chapters in the book, one hero recounts the story of a firefight wherein a Northern Alliance fighter tackled him and pinned him to the ground. When the hero asked through a translator why he had done this, the Northern Alliance fighter explained that were he to be killed, the fight would continue, but if the hero were to be killed, then the ability to destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda would die with him.
Lopez: What would Caspar Weinberger want us to know about this book?
Hall: Cap would want you to know that this is an unapologetic, unashamedly pro-military book that reflects his deepest feelings of pride and appreciation for the 2.4 million men and women of our Armed Forces, the people Cap loved and served as President Reagan’s secretary of Defense.
Lopez: What was the most treasured bit of wisdom Sec’t Weinberger passed along to you during the whole writing process?
Hall: That gratitude is pedagogical. Cap impressed upon me that expressions of appreciation for our servicemen and women hold the power to reinvigorate the national memory and deepen our collective knowledge of history. Put simply, Cap believed that gratitude teaches. And I think that’s why he was always so adamant that those who worked for him always write thank-you notes. At Cap’s funeral Secretary Colin Powell quipped that Cap made you write thank-you notes in response to thank-you notes. But I think this goes to something deeper, and it’s tied to the historical amnesia that so many young people suffer from today, a development we conservatives so often lament. In his farewell address, President Reagan warned us this might happen: “For those who create the popular culture [media], well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. … If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.” During the two years we spent writing Home of the Brave, Cap demonstrated that patriotism is not mindless “jingoism,” as so many liberals would have Americans believe. Patriotism is respect and appreciation. It’s knowledge and hope.
Lopez: Is there any one hero you’d make a household name if you could?
Hall: Sergeant Rafael Peralta, who is currently under review to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. We tell his story in the final chapter of the book. Those in military circles know this marine’s story, but sadly most Americans have never heard his name. Sergeant Peralta grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. On the very day he received his green card, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. During the Battle of Fallujah, Sergeant Peralta and his “stack” were clearing a room when terrorists unloaded their weapons into his body at near point-blank range. When his body slumped to the center of the small room, an enemy fighter rolled a live grenade into the room about a foot away from Peralta. The dying Marine reached out and cradled the live grenade and smothered the blast with his body. When the other Marines in the room looked up, everyone but Sergeant Peralta was alive. The night before he entered the battle of Fallujah, Sergeant Peralta wrote his little brother, Ricardo, a letter that would be his last. In it, Rafael Peralta wrote, “Be proud of being an American. Our father came to this country, became a citizen because it was the right place for our family to be.”
Lopez: Tell us about one unsung military hero not in your book.
Hall: David Bellavia. He is a former Army staff sergeant from the Big Red One [First Infantry Division] who, like SSGT Peralta, is up for the Medal of Honor and has been nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross. And that’s in addition to the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Conspicuous Service Cross (New York State’s highest combat-valor award) he already has to his name. SSGT Bellavia is a part of Vets for Freedom and does tremendous work on behalf of our vets and those still down range. To their credit, Time ran a full-length article about SSGT Bellavia a while back. But how many people know his name or story? The fact that SSGT Bellavia previously called on defeatist Democrats like Murtha to apologize for disparaging our soldiers’ successes probably won’t win him wall-to-wall media coverage like that given to Cindy Sheehan. But anyone who single-handedly saves three squads of his platoon, clears an insurgent-infested house, and eliminates four enemy in the process has a story worth knowing. And that was one of the hardest, and most hopeful, parts about writing a book filled with untold stories of bravery — the minute you finish the manuscript, a whole new wave of heroes has already formed.