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Media Ignores the Nation's Heroes

By Jack Kelly

The last of Cap Weinberger's many services to his country, completed just days before his death, is the book "Home of the Brave."

In "Home of the Brave," President Reagan's secretary of defense and co-author Wynton Hall tell the stories of American heroes in the War on Terror the news media should be telling, but mostly haven't.

One story that has been reasonably well told is that of Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester of the Kentucky Army National Guard, the first woman to be awarded the Silver Star, America's third highest combat decoration, since nurse Mary Louise Roberts in World War II.

Sgt. Hester, 23, won the Silver Star for her role in repulsing an ambush by more than 50 insurgents of a convoy her military police squad was escorting on March 20, 2005. When the day was over, 27 of the insurgents were dead, seven more were prisoners.

"Raven 42" of the 617th Military Police Company was one together group. In addition to Sgt. Hester, two others of the ten member squad won the Silver Star for their actions that day; three were awarded the Bronze Star, and two the Army Commendation Medal with combat V. Not bad for weekend warriors.

Thanks mostly to the efforts of Alex Leary of the St. Petersburg Times, the story of Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, the only Medal of Honor recipient in the war so far, has also been told pretty well.

At the Baghdad International Airport on April 4, 2003, SFC Smith held off, essentially by himself, an attack by 100 or more insurgents, killing nearly 50 before he himself was mortally wounded.

But Sgt. Rafael Peralta, LtCol. Mark Mitchell, Staff Sergeant Stephen Achey, Hospitalman Luis Fonseca and the 13 others profiled by Mr. Weinberger and Mr. Hall are household names chiefly only in their own households, and in the units in which they served.

Of the 19 heroes whose exploits are recounted in this book, eight are Army soldiers; eight are Marines; two are Air Force tactical air controllers, and one is a Navy corpsman who serves with Marines. Three won their awards in Afghanistan; 16 in Iraq.

The story that caused me to tear up the most is that of Marine Sgt. Peralta, who has been recommended, posthumously, for the Medal of Honor.

Sgt. Peralta was killed on Nov. 15, 2004, during the second battle of Fallujah. His squad was clearing a house. Sgt. Peralta was the first into a room where at least three insurgents lay in ambush. He was shot in the chest and the face, but still had the presence of mind to jump into an adjoining room to give the Marines behind him a clear field of fire.

Four Marines maneuvered into the room where Sgt. Peralta lay when an insurgent tossed a grenade into it. Sgt. Peralta pulled the grenade to him and smothered it with his body, saving the others from death or serious injury.

Sgt. Rafael Peralta died for a country he loved, but of which he was not yet a citizen. A Mexican immigrant who lived in San Diego, Sgt. Peralta enlisted in the Marines the day he received his green card.

"Be proud of being an American," Sgt. Peralta had written to his younger brother in the only letter he ever sent him.

Of the 19 heroes described in the book, three others besides Sgt. Peralta -- Army Sergeant First Class Javier Camacho; Marine Sgt. Marco Martinez, and Luis Fonseca, the Navy corpsman -- are Hispanics. This is a fact that I think has some relevance in the current immigration debate.

In an afterword, Secretary Weinberger and Mr. Hall say they wrote "Home of the Brave" to compensate in part for the lack of coverage in the news media of the good things our servicemen and women are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The dearth of hopeful or heroic stories reported has given viewers a lopsided perspective," they wrote.

Soldiers who misbehave make the front page. Soldiers who perform nobly do not. When SFC Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor, the New York Times put the story on page A-13.

I did a Nexis search on "New York Times and Abu Ghraib." It came back with more than 1,000 hits. The Times has run exactly one story that mentions Sgt. Peralta, and he had to share billing in it with SFC Smith and Sgt. Hester.

"A nation that ignores, or, worse, attacks its heroes erodes and disparages its own ethos," warn Mr. Weinberger and Mr. Hall.


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