President Obama presented the Congressional Medal of Honor today to the widow and brother of a Vietnam War infantryman who sacrificed his life to save the men of his platoon. It is the greatest sacrifice a human being makes, to give up one’s life for another. But watching the ceremony I was struck by something about the right wing hatred of President Obama — in hating him so vehemently, in denying his legitimacy as our President, in labeling him most of things Americans hate from his race to his political position –- the right wing has diminished the honors being bestowed on Americans during his term of office. They are saying to our first responders, our soldiers and sailors, our artistic achievers, our outstanding students and teachers, our innovators, the families of our fallen, that their accomplishments and losses are not special because they are being honored by a man the right wing refuses to acknowledge is our President.
Leslie Sabo, a naturalized citizen born in Hungary, died in Cambodia in 1970. He was 22 years old and a newlywed. His Medal of Honor is long overdue. Not enough of these medals were bestowed on Vietnam War soldiers, sailors and airmen. Our nation was so traumatized by the war, and our Presidents since then so eager to distance themselves from it, that we have failed to recognized the heroism and sacrifices of those men and women.
When a sports team member refuses to attend an honor ceremony at the White House because he denies the legitimacy of the President, he insults and demeans his teammates. When the right wing attacks the President’s speeches and meetings with our heroes and fallen, they insult and diminish those being honored. And these people call themselves patriots and tell themselves they are better than those who respect the office of the Presidency and the man who occupies that office. They say our President and all liberals hate our soldiers, but it is the right wing who dishonors them.
Liberals hated George W. Bush. There’s no denying that fact. But we were appalled that he refused to meet the fallen as they returned from his personal war in Iraq. We criticized him for the way he wanted to ignore the sacrifice. We wanted him to face the price of his actions, and we wanted him to honor those who fell. Catholics of all political bends were furious when Pope John Paul II refused to receive the firefighter’s helmet of a gay priest who died shielding an injured man on 9-11. It didn’t matter if Father Mike was gay. What mattered was that he removed that helmet to properly administer to a dying man. It is possible to hate the man while respecting the office and understanding the importance of the honors that office pays to our heroes, our achievers and our fallen.
Today, President Obama told a group of Vietnam veterans gathered for the Medal of Honor ceremony, “You did your job, you served with honor, you made us proud.” My friends, my school mates, my relatives, my generation have waited too long for those words to be spoken by a President of the United States of America on behalf of the American people. Leslie Sabo was one of the forgotten, a file in a box in an archive warehouse. His widow Rosemary and his family deserved this respect and this honor, this acknowledgment of their loss and their sacrifice forty years ago. His parents should not have gone to their graves not knowing how bravely their son died. Rosemary should have had that one little thing to cherish as a memory of a husband taken from her so young, so newly married before they had an opportunity to have children and build a life together. Leslie Sabo was one of 58,220 American men and women who died in the Vietnam War, 11% of the Americans who served. They all deserved the respect of a grateful nation, even those who came home and protested it.
The right wing haters should be ashamed of themselves for the way their hatred dishonors others Americans, but they won’t be. They have been so indoctrinated in that hate they can’t see the harm they do, how unpatriotically they are behaving, how inhumane they have become.