(VOA Editorial)  (470)

(Following is an editorial, to be broadcast by the Voice of America May

31, reflecting American ideals and institutions.)

Today Americans celebrate Memorial Day -- a time to honor those who have

given their lives in defense of their country.  They include a 21-year-old

schoolteacher named Nathan Hale.

As a captain in the Continental Army during America's War for Independence,

Hale volunteered for a dangerous intelligence mission behind enemy lines.

Captured and sentenced to death by the British, Hale won the admiration of

his foes and his fellow Americans for his dignity, courage, and devotion to

duty.  As the hangman's noose was placed around his neck, Hale remarked, "I

only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

As the world's oldest government dedicated to freedom and equality under

law, the United States has a special reason to honor the bravery of those

who died in defense of these principles.  For many years, however, no

special medal or decoration was awarded by the American military for

exceptional heroism.  But the Civil War tested the courage and devotion of

Americans as no other conflict before or since.  Over two million Americans

took part in the Civil War, and nearly one out of every three was killed or


To honor the bravest of the brave, the U.S. Congress, in 1861, authorized a

decoration called the Medal of Honor, to be presented by the president on

behalf of Congress and the American people.  The Medal of Honor is awarded

to American soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen "for conspicuous

gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life and beyond the call of duty."

 In a moment of supreme crisis, these Americans chose to put the life of

their country and the safety of their comrades-in-arms ahead of their own

life and safety.


One such hero was Marine Lance Corporal Richard Anderson.  During a

desperate battle with Vietnamese Communist troops in August 1969, Anderson

was badly wounded in both legs.  He continued to fire at the enemy --

repulsing their attack and sustaining a third serious wound.  Moments

later, a live hand grenade landed near Corporal Anderson and his fellow

marines.  Covering the exploding grenade with his body, Anderson was

instantly killed.  But he had saved the lives of his friends.

For those slain Americans whose bodies were never recovered and whose last

acts of heroism are known only to God, a Medal of Honor has been placed at

the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  They share

with all of America's war dead a tribute paid by Admiral Chester Nimitz to

the Americans he led in the Second World War.  Among them, he said,

"Uncommon valor was a common virtue."