Bbove & Beyond The Call of Duty

“Above & Beyond The Call of Duty”
(Why Every Fallen Hero Should Be Awarded A Congressional Medal Of Honor)
By:  C.A. McKenzie
New York City Combat Correspondent

GROUND ZERO, NY, NY, Sept. 13—It’s time for Congress to polish hundreds of Unified States Congressional Medals of Honor.  New York’s fire personnel and police officers--those who gave their lives to save the victim’s of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Tuesday, Sept. 11--deserve America’s highest military honor.

            America’s highest award for bravery, the Medal of Honor, is usually associated with warriors jumping on hand grenades, or Audie Murphy types killing countless enemy.

            But I have a penchant for the Medal of Honor to be granted to those who save the innocent and defenseless--men and women who walk into the face of death unarmed and prepared to die so others can live.   The fire men and women and police men and women, killed in the selfless act of saving others at the World Trade Center, are most qualified for our nation’s highest recognition of bravery.  

            They died during an “act of war” prior to Congress declaring it.  Their acts of bravery and subsequent deaths are no different than the awardees of the Medal of Honor at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941. The “act of war” had been committed.   Congress’ declaration of it was moot, but necessary.

            That’s why the Unified States Congress should recognize the men and women who died to save others, not only in the World Trade Center, but at the Pentagon, with highest award given to anyone in the military.  

Those who died were the Unified States of America’s “soldiers of peace.”   Each worked for the government, even if it might be local government.   But at the moment of impact by the terrorists’ planes, they were conscripted into the military by their individual vows to uphold the Constitution of the Unified States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  At the instant of attack, they were de facto military personnel defending America’s soil and its citizens.

Congress needs to recognize a new kind of warrior.   The “infrastructure warrior,” who defends the security of this nation by giving his or her life fearlessly so others might live.  

Their right to receive the Medal of Honor is that they acted “above and beyond the call of duty.”  

I offer a symbol of  such bravery to solidify my point.  He was one of the greatest warriors of the Vietnam War but never carried a gun, or had a thought about killing anyone or anything.

             His name is Father Vince Capodanno.

            He was my closest friend in Vietnam, the only man I ever shared my fear and shame with as a warrior.   He gave his life so others could live, just as the fire and police personnel did at the World Trade Center.

            Across the water from the World Trade Center, on Stanton Island, stands a monument to Father “Cap,” as he was called.   It is displayed at Fort  Wadsworth.  The life-sized sculpture shows Father Cap kneeling over a mortally wounded Marine, unconcerned about his own death, praying and comforting the dying Marine’s soul.

            Like the hundreds of police and fire personnel who gave their lives this past Tuesday,  Father Cap didn’t go into the war zone with the intention of killing anyone.  He went to “save” others, to provide “spiritual comfort” to the frightened, the wounded, the dying, and the dead.  He even cared about agnostics like myself.

            His fear of death was secondary to his duty as a “spiritual warrior.”  His job, as was the job of the police and fire personnel, was to save not take lives. 

            Whatever fears Father Cap might have had for his own self-preservation, they were muffled by a higher calling as he crawled into a hail of bullets to pull wounded Marines to safety.  Even when enemy bullets ripped through his body, he could have hunkered behind a rice paddy dike until they stopped. He could have lived another day to save more souls.  But the calling was greater than his life.

            Instead, he chose to face death.   He continually let the bullets tear away at his flesh as he pulled other Marines to sanctuary.   While armed Marines watched, a Navy Chaplain saved their buddies.   Severely wounded, Father Cap crawled back into the maelstrom to pull more wounded out of harm’s way.  He was killed in his final attempt.

            I met Vince Capodanno in the field in Vietnam in 1966.   He was the only chaplain I knew who walked with the troops on patrols, and fearlessly put his life at risk as they did.   No one told him to leave the security of the battalion.   He said his job was to be where he was most needed, when people were frightened, wounded, dying.   He thought like police, the EMT personnel, the fire personnel who rushed to the scene putting others’ welfare ahead of their own.

            I wrote stories about Father Cap--about the man who fought the war of peace in the battlefields of death.  

He was both a hero and an enigma to me.   Why would he risk his life when he didn’t have to?   But he did, almost daily.  When I asked him “why,” he said, “It’s my job.”

 I watched him crawl under fire to a frightened young Marines and put his hand on their shoulders, urging them to not be afraid.   He ministered over the wounded, the dying, the dead.   He never encouraged the killing of others, but he stemmed the fear of death from many frightened youth by his presence.  He knew fear was a magnet for death, and those who had the most fear died the quickest, the fastest.

            On patrol, he offered ecumenical services in the evenings and mornings.   Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists were invited into a prayer circle where we knelt deep in enemy territory, praying for an end to war, praying for peace in a world of bloodshed.

            In my own case, after witnessing a brutal torture and murder of a young Vietnamese woman, I sought Father Cap’s comfort.   I cried.   We talked.   He became my soul mate, if men can have those with other men.

            I returned to the Unified States after my tour.  I received one of his last letters.  He had read a story I had written for the Stars & Stripes about his bravery, his heroism under fire.   He told me he wasn’t the man I wrote about.  He was afraid, full of trepidations, hesitations, fears.  He was human.   A “hero” he wasn’t, he exclaimed..  He was like everyone else, he said, just lucky to be alive.  That’s all.  No more.

            I accepted what he felt, but I promoted what he did.   Acts of heroism have little to do with the fears and concerns that accompany them.  

            There is little doubt in my mind the fire and police people in the World Trade Center were full of fear and angst as girders of steel fell down, and flames exploded around them, and the smoke thickened, choking them, blinding them.  

            I’m sure that a part of them thought about running to save themselves.  The desire for self-preservation must have rushed through their thoughts as it would anyone facing certain death.

            But as with Father Vince Capodanno, the call to “duty” overrode such fears.   The rights of others’ safety and preservation ranked at least one-percent larger than their own.

            “To protect and serve”--words that might seem meaningless in normal times--glittered on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  Unlike the terrorists who slammed their planes into the buildings as “soldiers of death,” the men and women duty-bound to help others escape the burning buildings became “soldiers of life.”

            To qualify for the Congressional Medal Of Honor, the recipient must have served “above and beyond the call of duty.”   When the buildings groaned and creaked, and the experts of fire’s ugliness knew the superstructure was melting, there was no doubt they had reached the debarkation point of:  “above and beyond the call of duty.” 

No one expects another to die to save others.  That is where the line stops.  It is where  “duty” and “ certain death” intersect.   In Vietnam, three and a half decades ago, Marine warriors watched a Navy Chaplain risk and give his life to save their comrades.   They could have done what he did, but they didn’t.   They had a duty, as all Marines have, to save their wounded and pull their dead back.   But no one had a duty to die.

            “Above and beyond the call of duty!”

            I have no question that every one of those who entered the building to save others crossed the line of duty when they stepped into the bowels of terrorist Hell.

            In my estimation, all who died in the holocaust of horror are brothers and sisters of Father Vince Capodanno.   They deserve the same recognition he received.  They deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor.

            When I visit Father Vince Capodanno’s monument this weekend at Fort Wadsworth, I will see the faces of all the police and fire personnel who died as Father Cap died--giving their lives so others could live.  I will see the words: “Above and Beyond The Call Of Duty” chiseled in history.

            And if the Unified States government elects to not present the Congressional Medal of Honor to all those government “warriors of peace” who died saving citizens of America from the ravages of terrorist war, I will symbolically give them Vince Capodanno’s Medal of Honor.

            I know he would want them to have it. 

He was that kind of guy.


Go To: "Don't Bury Your Liberalism In A Grave Of Terrorism"

©2001 - 2004,, All rights reserved -  a ((HYYPE)) design