I was very pleased when our group of service members returned safely to the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island. It appears that they conducted themselves in a professional manner while “guests” of the Chinese government. I think that the pilot did an excellent job in landing the aircraft safely. I do wonder why there was no recognition given the co-pilot who was equally responsible for a safe landing. All too often the co-pilot is assumed to be just another passenger. I can well imagine the terror the crewmembers experienced during this landing.
I do question the awarding of the Distinguished Flying Cross to the pilot and the Air Medal to remaining crew members. These particular medals mean something to millions of veterans like myself. The media uses the term hero when it is not in the least appropriate. To quote Webster’s Dictionary, a hero is, “A man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” If there were any individuals on that aircraft that earned the honor of being called a hero, it was the pilot and co-pilot. This was not a wartime situation so just being there does not make you a hero. I think that both pilots deserved an Air Medal. The rest of the crew should have been given a Meritorious Service Medal, if the government felt they should receive a medal at all. That medal is a peacetime commendation, but the remaining crewmembers do not meet the criteria for this award either.
Apparently our government is so hungry to exhibit some heroes that they do not know the difference between a hero and a passenger. It is an insult to military veterans both dead and alive to have medals, which they earned, besmirched in this manner.
I was awarded the DFC and Air Medals in 1943 while stationed in England. I flew 25 combat missions over hostile European territory to earn these awards. I was not a passenger on the bomber, but a bombardier. Over half the airmen that took part in the 25 missions were shot down during their tour of duty. They did not get the above-coveted medals as most received a Purple Heart, or at best a White Cross, if their remains were ever located.
I think many of us remember the Gold Star emblems that the mothers of the dead veterans displayed in the front windows of their homes. Awards that were given then were earned the hard way and cherished by the veteran. The veterans still alive have been given a slap in the face by our government, which hands out medals like prizes in a Cracker Jack box.
I recall an incident not long ago when five men died in Vietnam in an aircraft crash while searching for the remains of our missing veterans. These men were trying to give closure to missing veterans’ families. I do not remember them getting any commendations. I suppose the politicians did not feel they would get news exposure that they received by appearing at Whidbey Island’s recognition ceremonies.
I do not in any way belittle the Whidbey 24. I think they did their job as professionals, but the award of these medals by the government is a direct insult to the veterans, dead and alive, who actually earned them.