Jim Webb doesn’t want his friends to talk about his combat record. He thinks it is "unseemly" to trade on one’s service to country for political gain. It is like him to use that word. He is an old fashioned patriot and warrior. For the same reason, he never talks about George Allan. It would be unseemly. Politics in the United States has degenerated mightily during my lifetime. We used to have leaders like Harry Truman who really did believe that the “buck” stopped with him. Senior military leadership is not what it once was. We once had leaders like George C. Marshall, who, without complaint of any kind, accepted FDR’s appeal that he stay in Washington and allow Eisenhower to command the Normandy invasion. Marshall knew that FDR was effectively denying him future national leadership. He never said a word about it. He maintained a principled silence until his death.
Since Jim Webb won’t talk about what he did in Vietnam when the “chips were down,” I will. Here is the substance of the citation that describes why he was awarded the Navy Cross in Vietnam.
“..deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb's platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex…. First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. … He then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. ….Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.” It is unseemly to talk about this? The Navy Cross is the country’s second highest medal for battlefield courage.
Think about this. This very young man led his forty-five marines into a fortified enemy position. Three enemy soldiers suddenly appeared. He personally captured the three of them. Then, he moved to a second bunker and in spite of what has just happened, called on them to surrender. The risk in this was appalling. Not many of us would have taken the chance of waiting to see what these new enemies would do. I would not have. In attacking a third bunker, Webb used his own body to shield one of his men from the blast of an enemy grenade. I am surprised that he did not receive the Medal of Honor.
Unseemly to talk about this? Think about the complete lack of focus on self that these actions exemplify. Do we not need leaders like this?
My God. I pray that we will always have leaders like this who can unflinchingly do their duty, and then, a generation later persist in principled silence and self-sacrifice in the way that Jim insists must be.
Senator Allen is reported to treasure the “dog tags” of a constituent, a man who was killed in Iraq. The man’s mother gave Allen the identity tags. Soldiers everywhere will appreciate Allen’s sentiment in this matter, but it should be kept clearly in mind that Jim Webb has his own “dog-tags.”
Webb’s “dog-tags” were not given to him. He paid for them in blood.
W. Patrick Lang
Colonel (Ret.) US Army