- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2008

Major League Baseball veterans of World War II, who despite their potential for fame and glory decided to serve in the military, were among those honored over the weekend at the American Veterans Center’s 11th annual awards banquet.

“Our nation endures because of our veterans, and it will endure because of the young men and women who continue to wear the cloth of our country,” said James B. Peake, U.S. secretary of veterans affairs.

Six veterans who deferred their major league dreams to serve their country - Jerry Coleman, Monte Irvin, Joe Anders, Bob Feller, Ralph Kiner and Lou Brissie - attended the event to accept the prestigious Audie Murphy Award, named after the most decorated soldier of World War II.

Former Washington Senator Mickey Vernon, who died Sept. 24, also received the award.

The Audie Murphy Award was one of five major accolades presented by the group Saturday night, each to a veteran of a major conflict.

Mr. Irvin was one of the first black players to be signed by a Major League Baseball club after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947. Mr. Irvin joined the Army engineers after he was drafted in 1944, serving in France and Germany. Before entering the service, he was a Negro League all-star and had won the Triple Crown in the Mexican League in 1942, hitting 38 home runs in 68 games.

Mr. Irvin, 89, recalled how people of that era felt service was a duty, even if they did not volunteer.

“When I was drafted, my buddy and I went and said, ‘Well we can’t do much about it, so let’s serve and do the very best we can.’ And we did. Now I’m very proud to have served,” Mr. Irvin recalled.

Retired Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr., was given the Raymond G. Davis Award for his service during the Korean War. Gen. Becton, then one of the few black officers in the Army, led a platoon to defend of a piece of strategic ground despite being cut off from the rest of their unit, during the battle for the Pusan Perimeter, in September 1950. Gen. Becton also was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts.

Gen. Becton, 82, recalled Saturday night how a soldier puts the fear of death behind him to complete a mission.

“It’s very simple: You’ve got a job to do,” he said. “And you know somebody’s going to get hurt or even killed, but you hide your fear because you have to do what needs to be done, and that’s it.”

Col. Walter Joseph Marm was awarded the Joe Ronnie Hooper Award for his actions in the battle of the Ian Drang Valley, in 1965, during the Vietnam War.

Col. Marm led a mission to rescue an isolated platoon during which he killed an enemy machine-gunner despite being shot in the jaw.

His actions are among those depicted in the Hollywood film “We Were Soldiers.”

Col. Marm, 67, said a soldier’s most important assets are his training and his faith.

“They say there are no atheists in a foxhole because you have to be very close to your creator to get through what we went through,” he said.

Army Capt. Bryan Jackson was presented the Paul Ray Smith Award for putting himself in harm’s way to protect a wounded comrade in Anbar province during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Senior Airman Jason Cunningham also was awarded posthumously. While under enemy fire and severely wounded after his Chinook helicopter crashed in the mountains of Afghan-istan, Airman Cunningham preformed life-saving medical care to 10 other troops before bleeding to death.

Also awarded posthumously was retired Col. Cyril “Rick” Rescorla, who was given the Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award for his actions on Sept. 11, in which he lost his life while helping evacuate the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Col. Rescorla’s wife, Susan, accepted the award on her husband’s behalf.

“Rick knew firsthand the cost of preserving this great nation,” she said. “Today is a day to be proud to be an American.”

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