Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Don Jenkins and Patrick Brady--Medal of Honor Winners and the Virtue of Courage

Blackfive offers today a very readable, if perhaps even eloquent, account of two Medal of Honor winners, Patrick Brady and Don Jenkins, on the anniversary of their actions. Tenacity and grit mark the deeds of both men, but, with no disrespect meant to Brady who flew repeated missions to evacuate wounded soldiers, there's something particularly poignant about the tale of Private First Class Jenkins.

After his unit lands in Kien Phong province, Jenkins is described as running to an 'exposed area' and then shooting his way across the terrain, picking up and discarding weapon after weapon in what reads a bit like a TV Western shoot-'em-up.

Jenkins ran to an exposed area and opened fire on enemy soldiers gathering near log bunkers with his M-60. When his machine gun jammed, Jenkins grabbed another rifle and fired upon the enemy while a teammate attempted to repair the M-60. He repeatedly charged through open terrain to grab ammunition from fallen soldiers until he could no longer find any ammunition. Then Jenkins picked up two anti-tank weapons from another fallen soldier. Despite incoming enemy fire, he closed within 20 yards of the enemy bunkers and destroyed two of them.Then the resourceful soldier picked up an M-79 grenade launcher and resumed his destruction until that weapon was exhausted as well. Meanwhile, a group of soldiers was pinned down just meters away from the enemy.
Medal of Honor winners most certainly exemplify the cardinal virtue of courage or bravery, but according to Aristotle, men are not brave because "they rush on danger without foreseeing any of the perils." That would simply be rash and foolish behavior. For Aristotle, bravery is action in the face of fear, but action tempered by reason, and action for a 'noble end.' One might ask whether Jenkins, who just the day before had required resuscitation after drinking 'poisoned wine,' was brave or whether he was just crazy and reckless.

If the embattled soldier has time for reasoned and prudent thought as he is dropped onto a battlefield under enemy fire, more power to him. In Jenkins's case, regardless of the state of his reasoning faculties, the virtue of courage that most certainly lurked within him was called out as he proceeded next to rescue not one but three wounded soldiers although he himself had been hit with shrapnel.
Previous rescue attempts had resulted in one death and many injuries, but that news must not have phased Jenkins. Ignoring serious shrapnel wounds in his stomach and legs, Jenkins crawled forward 100 meters to the embattled position three times over the course of the night, each time bringing back a wounded comrade. Following the battle, Jenkins was promoted to Staff Sergeant. Oddly enough however, Jenkins' commanding officer had threatened to bust him down to Private the day prior to his heroic actions: Jenkins needed to be resuscitated due to drinking a poisoned bottle of wine. Following his discharge, Jenkins returned to the coal mines of Kentucky, and received notification that he was to be awarded the Medal in 1971.
Regardless of whatever Jenkins may or may not have had in mind when he took off for that exposed area after landing, he finished the day with a fittingly Aristotelian 'noble end,' and such action is the reason we rightly revere and reward the virtue of bravery in our soldiers.

No comments:

Post a Comment