- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

Oliver North’s rousing speech at this week’s Congressional Medal of Honor Society Golf Classic would have left paunchy provocateur Michael Moore speechless.

Mr. Moore’s incendiary hit “Fahrenheit 9/11” plays up the U.S. military’s inexcusable behavior in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and otherwise paints its mission as immoral.

Mr. North knows better.

The retired Marine lieutenant colonel and combat veteran, who spends countless hours with those serving in the U.S. military and routinely serves as an embedded reporter for Fox News, said the soldiers he knows are selfless, brave and representative of their nation.

“Nearly all of [the honorees] received their medal trying to save the lives of others,” he said Monday at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Va.

Veterans from past military conflicts gathered for golf, good times and poignant remembrances at the second annual gala, which raised more than $100,000 for Congressional Medal of Honor Society efforts to protect the honor and dignity of the medal (exposing false claimants, preventing unauthorized use, etc.).

The medal, dating back to 1864, is the nation’s highest military award. Just 131 of the 3,459 recipients are still alive. The event paid tribute to 15 of them: one from the Korean War, 10 from Vietnam and four from World War II, including Walter Ehlers, a former staff sergeant with the U.S. Army and the sole living Medal of Honor recipient from the D-Day invasion.

In his keynote address, Mr. North was contemptuous of press accounts that imply the soldiers are uneducated or otherwise unworthy of the nation’s trust.

What other group would voluntarily risk their lives to free a people suffering for nearly 30 years of despotic rule without asking anything in return, he asked.

The people those troops have freed know the score, he said, his voice brimming with conviction. “Most of my colleagues seemed to have missed the affection the Iraqis have for our soldiers.”

The all-day event packed plenty of emotional moments, but it also let the veterans unwind with a few rounds of golf, played on an uncommonly gorgeous June day. PGA golf pro Dave Stockton Sr. helped those whose golf swings needed a tweak and promised to return next year — along with some fellow PGA golfers — to do the same.

The pre-dinner cocktail reception featured about 50 Iraq war combat veterans transported from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for the event. Some wore eye patches; a few limped on wounded legs.

The soldiers chatted with the older veterans from previous wars, bending closer to their elders to hear the tales.

Sgt. John Boismier of Detroit echoed Mr. North’s frustration over the media’s saturation coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

“It’s a small minority of troops,” said Sgt. Boismier, who will be returning to Iraq in the coming weeks.

“People should know more of the everyday sacrifices of the soldiers,” the sergeant added. “They’re giving up so much, but they’re not focusing on that.”

Mr. Moore’s inflammatory film might show servicemen and women speaking out against the war, but the sergeant said his peers don’t see it that way.

“Soldiers aren’t necessarily for or against the war, we’re just doing what we’re told to do,” he said.

Col. H.C. “Barney” Barnum, who served with distinction in the Vietnam War, said he and his fellow soldiers fought so that Americans could speak out about their country, but a few take the dialogues to the extreme.

“Some people don’t realize freedom isn’t free,” he said. “Some of the comments being made are almost treasonous.”

Actor Stephen Lang (“Gods and Generals”) said matching medal recipients with golf is a simple but fitting touch, given the modest mien of the honorees.

“The game of golf teaches humility in a big way,” Mr. Lang observed.

Medal of Honor recipient Alfred Rascon, an Army specialist who has served in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, said there’s a good reason why his fellow recipients remain humble.

“It’s not yours,” Mr. Rascon said of the medal. “It’s on behalf of those with you in the service.”

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