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Posts Tagged ‘Congressional Medal of Honor’

Imagine it is September 11, 2001 all over again, except this time you are one of the passengers on United Airlines flight 93, bound for San Francisco out of Newark, New Jersey.  Except for luck, fate, timing, call it what you wish, it could have been any of us on that plane on that day.  The plane had already been hijacked and the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon had already been hit by other hijacked aircraft.  What if it had been you on United 93 and you knew about the other hijackings and the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon? What would you do? Would you have decided to make an all out attack on the hijackers, storm the cockpit, and try to take over control of the plane, knowing that it must certainly be destined to smash into another major American landmark?

Not everyone would take that action.  Many would have remained in their seats, hoping, praying for something to save them. Some would have just entered a trance-like state, denying the reality of the entire situation, assuring themselves that it must be a dream from which they would awaken.  Others might even hold out hope that they could bargain with their captors, maybe make a deal – who knows?  But the passengers on United 93 didn’t try to avoid a confrontation.   They knew that the people who had taken control of the plane were ruthless murderers. They knew that their plane was going to be used as a weapon against other Americans. They decided that they were not going to let that happen.

We all know the result of their decision.  They rammed in the door of the cockpit and fought hand to hand with the terrorists for the control of the plane.  The violent struggle continued until the terrorists lost control of the aircraft and it plunged to the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Everyone on board perished. It is now known that the most likely target for United 93 was the U.S. Capitol building.  If the passengers had not intervened our Capitol – the symbol of our democracy – would have been reduced to rubble and many more Americans on the ground would have died.

Here is the question: do the brave passengers on United 93 deserve any posthumous recognition for their bravery from the U.S. government? Should they be awarded posthumous medals, similar to the Medal of Honor that is reserved for military people?  Surely their bravery and their deed of saving the U.S. Capitol is comparable to the bravery and deeds of many who have been awarded the Medal of Honor, isn’t it?

So far, the only recognition these brave heroes of United 93 have been awarded is a Hollywood movie called United 93.  There are government awards available to heroes such as these. There is the highest honor that can be awarded by the U.S. President: the Presidential Medal of Freedom award, perhaps it would be an appropriate medal that could be awarded to recognize their gallant deed. But it hasn’t been. The most recent recipients of this award for “service to country” was CIA Director George Tenat in 2004.  Before that it was Jean MacArthur in 1988, she was the second wife of General Douglas MacArthur. Before that the Medal had been awarded in 1984 to Whittaker Chambers, a former communist spy who eventually testified against Alger Hiss. So far neither President Bush nor President Obama has deemed the heroic passengers of United 93 worthy of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Well, what about the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award that Congress can award? The most recent recipient of this award was Arnold Palmer on Sept 30, 2009.  Other recent winners of this award have been Neil Armstrong, Edward Brooke III, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Dr. Michael Debakey.  Congress did take  up the question of awarding their medal to the passengers of United 93, but, in their collective wisdom, they ultimately decided that the passengers on United 93 did not deserve such an august honor from them.

Recently, the National Park Service broke ground for a memorial to the people who died on United 93. It’s a simple memorial, a bit reminiscent of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, sort of half-underground with a low wall. So that’s it? That’s what happens in this country when ordinary civilians show extraordinary courage and save the nation’s Capitol from certain destruction? They get a low wall in the ground in Shanksville, PA? Meanwhile, George Tenat gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Arnold Palmer gets the Congressional Gold Medal?

I have only one question for President Obama (because the Congress is beyond hope): Mr. President, when will you correct this egregious oversight?

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