Sunday, November 14, 2010

Iowa, Apple Pie, Heroism and a Book of Lies

George W. Bush is making the rounds of talk shows peddling his book.

On Tuesday, Bush's successor will place the Congressional Medal of Honor around the neck of Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, the first living American to receive the nation's highest award for valor since the Vietnam war.

What webs we weave.

As for Bush's book, I can only endorse a friend's suggestion that we all go into a local bookstore and move a copy or two from its display shelf to the place where it belongs -- the crime section.

I don't know Sgt. Giunta but I know his grandfather, Bob Judge.  Someone had to coin the phrase "as American as apple pie" just to describe Bob Judge.

High school football hero, married a cheerleader.  Worked his entire life at the absolutely typical American middle class occupation -- barber (just like the father of "Charlie Brown" of the comic strip, "Peanuts.")  Loved baseball, steak, riding horses (in blue jeans across dusty roads next to cornfields and apple groves, not the fancy-pants kind of riding that's called "equestrian.") 

Bob's a lung cancer survivor, like me.  He wasn't a smoker.  What, I asked, when I called to wish him well, caused the cancer?  "The doctors don't know," he said.  "They're intrigued to find out.  Personally, I think it's from all the ribs I've broken falling off horses in my lifetime."  Tough guy.  What would you expect from someone who was an all-conference tackle -- on offense and defense -- in high school?  Guy who lifted weights to stay fit and loved to play "burn out," and if you didn't grow up in the midwest half a century ago, that's a version of "having a catch" where you throw the ball back and forth as hard as you can, trying to make the other fellow's hand sting like hell  when he catches it.

Bob is a lifelong resident of Clinton, Iowa, a town that, like Bob, is apple pie American. His wife, Molly, was the town's women's tennis champion in her younger years.  Won the tournament on the old high school courts before the high school burned down.

Bob and Molly raised six fine kids, worked hard to educate them.  Rosemary, Sgt. Giunta's mother, is a school teacher in Hiawatha, Iowa, although Salvatore was born when she and Steven still lived in Clinton (1985).

Just over three years ago, in a place in Afghanistan nicknamed "death valley," Sal Giunta ran through a hail of gunfire to rescue two wounded comrades. One of the men he rescued, Sgt. Joshua Brennan, and another comrade, Spec. Hugo Mendoza, died in the action.

"I didn't try to be a hero," Sal told an embedded reporter with his unit.  "I ran to the front because Brennan was there.   All of my feelings are with my friends.  I have sweat more, cried more, bled more in this country than in my own."

"Death valley's" real name is Korengal.  "These people," Sal said of the Korengalis, "will never leave this valley.  They were here long before I could even fathom an Afghanistan."

The war George Bush started had been dragging on for seven long years when Salvatore Giunta did the deed that won him the nation's highest military honor.  Now, more than three years later, American forces have withdrawn from the Korengali, but elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan other young Americans continue to sweat, to cry and to bleed.

Brennan. Mendoza. Giunta. Cunningham. Gallardo. Eckrode.  None will ever hold high office in this land.  But it's their tears, their sweat, their blood that fuels the wars Bush started.

And it's the taxes of Bob Judge, Steve Giunta and their children and their children's children that will pay down, ever so slowly if at all, the enormous monetary debt of these wars, still dragging on in their 11th year.

Somebody paid George Bush $9 million in advance for his book.  That's probably more than the combined lifetime earnings of Bob Judge and Steve Giunta.

But not enough to pay for the tears, the sweat and the blood of Sal Giunta and his comrades in arms. Not even the Medal of Honor can pay that toll.

1 comment:

  1. This family's grandson risked his life to save his comrades and to fight his country's wars. Back home, the government that bailed out the bankers cannot, or will not, help this soldier's grandparents -- whose home is being foreclosed by those very same bankers. Is this what Sgt. Giunta shed his sweat, tears and blood for?