Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reflections: Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words

Adam C. Zern gives his thoughts on Larry Smith's compilation Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words:

"My first semester at Rollins I heard about Beyond Glory.  My professor mentioned the courage and initiative of some of the Medal of Honor recipients to prove an academic point.  I became minimally interested in the book and put it on my Amazon Wish List where it sat for almost two years.

I eventually ordered the book and I enjoyed the stories that were contained therein.  The book's greatest strength, however, is also its greatest weakness.  The book provides Medal of Honor recipient's stories from three major conflicts: World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam.  The accounts are quite literally transcribed interviews.  This gives the stories a sense of realism, but many of the nuances of storytelling and effective reporting of events are almost entirely omitted.  The narratives will wander to various tangents and the requisite ability to delineate complex military logistics and situations is missing.  This makes some of the stories difficult to follow and they lose some of their impact.  Do not expect to enjoy the war-time poetry prose that Tim O'Brien is able to compose or the masterful recreations exhibited by Mark Bowden.

Having said that, the stories are effective in getting across the main theme of the book--"in their own words."  The stories can be brutally honest and jarring.  War is absolute hell, and many of the stories told from first hand accounts make that abundantly clear.  Most of the Medal of Honor recipients describe their courageous actions and decisions as being made out of a sense of duty.  It had to be done.  Lives had to be saved, so they acted.  The simplicity of motivation is refreshing and quite inspiring.  Furthermore, many of the recipients are genuinely patriotic people in the best way possible, and they are proof that America is filled with heroes.  Some of them are just given the opportunity to be awarded for it; luckily, some of them have given their experiences in their own words in this book and there are valuable lessons to be learned from them."

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