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Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Few Words For Gen. McPeak

Barack Obama has been surrounding himself with retired Generals, and former advisers to past presidents to beef up his image on national security and defense, something most Democrats have to do since they are widely seen as weak on those issues. (The group as a whole will come up in a later post).

One of his surrogates, retired General Merrill A. McPeak, know as Tony, recently took a jab that's completely off base at John McCain.

McPeak's comment (which can be found at the LA Times) was "But like I used to tell John: You don't get to be a hero by getting shot down, you get to be a hero by shooting the other guy down.". You need to read the whole article to understand just how snarky a comment that is in context.

McPeak is correct, but only on a certain level. Richard Bong, Greg Boyington, Eddie Rickenbacker all got to be heroes due to shooting a lot of the other folks out of the sky. We adore success at just about anything, but in a war we adore it even more.

Most folks who get shot down don't become heroes, Ens. George Gay, the only survivor of VT-8 at the battle of Midway wasn't considered a hero, he was considered lucky for surviving a mistimed attack. His whole squadron, though should be considered heroes since their mistimed attack lead to the victory that turned the Pacific theater around.

On the flip side, guys like McCain, Rod Knutson, Ted Guy and many others became heroes after being shot down. McCain himself jokes that it doesn't take a lot of piloting skill to get hit by a SAM, and knows that's not what made him a hero. Instead, they became heroes based on how they conducted themselves while they were prisoners of war, and what they endured.

I served under the above mentioned Capt. Knutson for the better part of 2 years in the mid 80's, and he was instrumental in getting my career moving in the right direction at a time that I was bound and determined to move it the wrong way.

One of the pleasure of that couple of years was getting to hear Captain Knutson's story in both public appearances, and some personal conversations. The mosting striking thing about hearing him talk wasn't that it was "his" story, but "their" story. The recurring theme was the one Obama is trying to run on, unity. When a POW would come back from a visit with the captors, a trip to the pit or isolation, another POW always checked on them somehow, whether scratching on a wall, or trying to talk to them; even when they knew the consequences if they got caught.

Contrast that the the unity theme Obama is running on, which is "I'm going to unite the country", followed by which groups he thinks should be punished by the tax code, be regulated by the government, and basically told that they aren't as important as others in his vision of unity.

I didn't realize until after Captain Knutson had moved on to another command; and I did some more reading; just how bad he'd personally had it in the Hanoi Hilton. In all the conversations and public appearances he never really went into the fact that he was the test subject for a lot of the more grizzly methods the North Vietnamese used on our POW's.

General McPeak may think Barack Obama is going to become a hero by "shooting down" Hillary Clinton and John McCain, but what he'd actually become is just another victorious politician. McCain will still be the true hero in this bunch, regardless of the outcome of the election in November.

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