The Washington Post brings the sad news that Gordon Mansfield died last week. I got to know Mansfield when he was deputy secretary of Veterans’ Affairs in the Bush administration (the VA was in my bailiwick at the White House). The VA is a very difficult department to manage. It suffers from dysfunctions that run deep to its basic design and its place in our political system. But a good man at the top (and deputy secretaries really manage cabinet departments) can make a huge difference, and Gordon Mansfield proved that every day. He lived and breathed the struggles of America’s veterans, especially those dealing with the long-term consequences of battlefield injuries, as he did. But he was at the same time a model of level-headed good sense and gentlemanly tact.
He was a lot more than that, though. Here’s how the Post describes how Mansfield came to earn his Distinguished Service Cross:
Mr. Mansfield, a Massachusetts native, joined the Army in 1964 and served two tours of duty in Vietnam. During the Tet Offensive of 1968, in which tens of thousands of North Vietnamese troops attacked South Vietnamese cities, Mr. Mansfield was the commanding officer of an airborne infantry company assigned to a search-and-clear operation.
His platoon came under intense enemy fire near Hai Lang that Feb. 4. When one group of soldiers was pinned down amid withering fire, he advanced with five men to the enemy’s flank and led an attack that largely silenced the guns.
While attempting to move wounded soldiers to safety, he was shot twice in the spine by an enemy combatant. He refused aid until his entire platoon was evacuated to safety.
His injuries left him permanently paralyzed, but that didn’t keep him from getting a law degree and building a career as an advocate for veterans like himself, eventually becoming executive director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America and then helping to lead the VA.
I think it’s fair to say that he did more for injured veterans than anyone in his generation. And I’m sure it’s fair to say that he was a great and heroic American. RIP.