Accidental War Deaths Medal
Some families of service members who died while deployed in combat zones but not from enemy fire are petitioning for the creation of a medal for accidental war deaths.
Richard Perez made just one request when he said goodbye to his son on a tarmac at March Air Reserve Base just east of [Los Angeles]. “Get back here no matter what,” Perez told Rich Jr. Six months later, and one week shy of his return from Iraq, the 19-year-old Marine was killed when a truck accidentally crushed him.
At the funeral, Perez asked a military officer about his son’s Purple Heart — and was told the military issues the honor only to those killed or wounded in combat. There would be no special medal for Richard Perez Jr. “These are honors, the highest things that can be bestowed on these guys,” Perez Sr. said recently. “That’s all you’re really left with.”
Following his son’s death in February 2005, Perez joined a small but growing group of families who are petitioning Congress to create an alternative medal honoring those killed in a war zone but away from combat. In Iraq and Afghanistan, that amounts to more than 600 men and women — more than 20 percent of the deaths so far.
Leading the effort is Eleanor Dachtler, who lost her 19-year-old son during an insurgent attack in Iraq and received her son’s Purple Heart posthumously. Currently, the families of those who die non-combat deaths say they receive medals honoring their loved one’s service, but nothing recognizing their death. “Anybody who goes over there and gives their life for their country deserves to be recognized,” said Dachtler, whose son, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Anderson of Las Vegas, was killed in November 2004. “How can you sit there and say one person’s life is less valuable than another person’s life?”
The families of those killed in non-combat incidents have said they do not want to change the criteria of the Purple Heart. What they do want is a medal to honor their loved one’s sacrifice. “He died in honor, serving his country,” said Frank Guastaferro, a Vietnam veteran whose 27-year-old son Daniel died in January 2005 when his Humvee plunged into a canal in Iraq. “I am very proud of him for what he accomplished.”
As tragic as the loss of life is to family members, it’s unclear to me why getting killed in a car crash in Iraq is different from doing so while on maneuvers at the National Training Center. The Purple Heart is different because it involves actual combat with the enemy, the thing that makes war war.
The more awards created for things other than valor or genuine achievement, the less meaningful they all are. Soldiers deployed to war zones already get multiple awards: An expeditionary or campaign medal, the National Defense Service Medal (awarded to anyone in the military during the conflict), a tour award, and sometimes awards issued by foreign governments as well. That’s in addition to any awards for actual heroism. Enough already.