On November 10, 2006 President Bush announced that Marine Corporal Jason Dunham would be the second American serviceman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq. Michael M. Philips’ book The Gift of Valor tells the story of this Marine, his comrades and family. It tells the story of Cpl. Dunham’s heroic actions, but it also tells the story of the heroic actions of medics, nurses and doctors, of social workers, friends, families and communities. The book ties together the effects of war on not only the combatant, but also those that support him. It does not stop with the action on the field but also shows the stress of the families who have loved ones serving during a time of war.
Phillips, a Wall Street Journal reporter, is embedded with the 3rd Battalion, Seventh Marines. He strives to tell their story as a reporter and without bias. He does not attempt to glorify men or war, nor does he vilify politicians or strategy. He simply reports. This leads to a book that shows Americans in extreme situations who are determined to do the job they have been assigned, and in many cases their actions can seem heroic to the reader. But the book does not just glorify people, it also shows some who make poor decisions and even others being forced by the situation to make the agonizing decision to allow one Marine to die, so that others may receive medical aid and live.
Not only does Phillips tell the story of Marines in the field, but he also tells what happens when they become wounded and enter the medical evacuation system, from rudimentary aid stations, to field hospitals, to military hospitals in Europe, and finally the US. This journey shows other Americans who fight a war of their own, not with guns and bullets, but with needle and sutures. This trip through the medical chain is often eye opening and heart wrenching.
Finally the book tells of the anguish that the families live through, knowing their loved ones are in a combat zone. It shows the fears that become realities when Marines become casualties. And it tells the frustrations that families feel, trying to get information, the worst situation being not knowing. Conversely, it shows friends, families and communities pulling together to offer support to the affected.
These multiple facets originate with a small group of Marines, but then spread, like ripples on a pond, encompassing others, from medical personnel to friends and family. The book shows Marines in battle, doctors and nurses striving to keep the wounded alive and families waiting by the phone. It stretches from dusty streets in Iraq, through Germany, to a small town in upstate New York. In many ways the book shows the horrors of war, the agony of the survivors and the tragedy of death. But it also shows goodness in people, faith and sacrifice, unity and strength. It is a story that needs to be told, and has been, well.
The Gift of Valor is available at the Uinta County Library in both book and book on CD formats.
Dale Collum, Uinta County Library 2/2007