Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: NASCAR Honors the 2010 Medal of Honor Recipients

Happy Independence Day!

I know it’s a couple days late, but it should be said. NASCAR Nation does such a great job of waving the flag, I always enjoy the pre-race ceremonies as I settle into my chair to watch the race. However, I was seriously disappointed on Saturday with TNT.

After Darius Rucker completed his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and the flyover vanished in the distance, the speedway started a ceremony to recognize six Medal of Honor recipients. These men stood tall and proud on a stage on the frontstretch… and TNT proceeded to bungle the whole thing. Names were read, faces were shown and a couple captions appeared — nothing actually matched up to one another.

After the camera pulled away, so did the coverage and nothing more was mentioned about these heroes — the real heroes at Daytona International Speedway.

I’ve been told by Frontstretch journalist Phil Allaway that the speedway did right by these gentlemen and spoke of the deeds that earned them that illustrious star, but the network chose to ignore the opportunity to honor these veterans as they deserve. So, this week I’ve elected to use this space to do as TNT should have, and let you know about the kind of soldiers that serve our nation during its most difficult moments.

All six men served during the Vietnam War and their tales are literally the stuff from which movies are made. Should you ever need a moment of inspiration, reading the details of any of the Medal of Honor recipients’ actions is a worthy endeavor. You can find all the recipients and their citations at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website.

Petty Officer Michael Edwin Thornton

Part of a Navy SEAL operation in 1972, Thornton returned for his seriously wounded lieutenant after their mission was compromised by heavy enemy fire. Thornton pulled the lieutenant to the water’s edge, inflated the man’s life jacket then swam with the unconscious officer two hours seaward until they were picked up.

Staff Sergeant Kenneth E. Stumpf

Near Duc Pho in 1967, Stumpf’s platoon approached a village and came under heavy fire. After rescuing three wounded squad members, he then organized an attack to take out the enemy machine gun bunkers. Using hand grenades, he tossed one in a bunker. It was thrown back out of the bunker. He took cover to avoid the explosion. The second time, he pulled the pin on two grenades, held them for several seconds before tossing them into the bunker, neutralizing the enemy threat.

Sergeant Richard A. Pittman

In 1966 near the Demilitarized Zone, Pittman’s company came under heavy fire on a narrow jungle trail. Hearing that the forward company required support firepower, he grabbed a machine gun and three belts of ammo. Walking up the middle of the trail, he continued to return point blank fire upon the enemy until all his ammunition was exhausted. Then picked up a discarded enemy machine gun and continued. He kept up his attack until he had no more ammo, could find no other gun and tossed his grenade into the enemy line.

Lieutenant Thomas R. Norris

Norris led a five-man patrol to rescue two downed pilots from enemy controlled territory. The rescue required four forays into the jungle, evading the enemy and avoiding rocket and mortar attacks. The final attempt involved infiltrating the area in disguise aboard a sampan to retrieve the second injured pilot. They covered the pilot in bamboo and vegetation in order to fool a North Vietnamese patrol and called in an airstrike to provide a smoke screen in order to reach the safety of the base.

Staff Sergeant Don J. Jenkins

During a reconnaissance mission, Jenkins’s unit became pinned down under persistent enemy fire. Placing himself in a vulnerable position, Jenkins used first a machine gun, then an anti-tank weapon and finally a grenade launcher to push back the enemy. During this exchange, he was seriously wounded by shrapnel. Undaunted, Jenkins returned three more times to pull other wounded men to safety.

Lt. Colonel Joe Jackson

Jackson piloted his C-123 in a rescue mission to pull three men from an overrun forward outpost. The outpost remained under heavy fire from mortar, small arms and automatic fire. The landing strip was strafed and eight aircraft had been destroyed, shortening the usable length to only 2,200 feet. He managed to land his cargo plane capable of carrying 63 passengers, pick up the hiding men and take off under a constant barrage of enemy fire.

These are the men that America has honored with a Congressional Medal of Honor. All of them acted in a moment of extreme danger with little regard for their own safety and only the wellbeing of their fellow comrades in mind. I thank each of them for their service.

We often call our favorite driver our hero. We hold their weekly forays into the arena of competition to be worthy of our admiration. And so it is.

But when we have the opportunity to honor the men and women who serve our country selflessly, it behooves us to do so as is appropriate—the camera should not cut away from their careworn faces or speak too quickly of their deeds.

The next time TNT has the chance to place the spotlight on the nation’s heroes, I hope they take the time to do it right.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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