Thursday, September 17, 2009
Staff Sgt. Jared Monti could have stayed where he was.
Under ferocious attack from about 50 Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan and taking cover behind rocks with his badly outnumbered patrol, he could have waited for artillery and airstrikes to beat back the enemy.
But only yards away, on open ground, one of his men, a private, lay dying. Sergeant Monti dashed out to bring him to safety. Enemy fire forced him to retreat. He ran out again. More bullets and shrapnel forced him back. The enemy was so close that the patrol members could hear voices; the gunfire was so withering that one soldier had a rifle blown from his hands.
The third time Sergeant Monti tried, he was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. He died within minutes.
It’s impossible to pinpoint where Sergeant Monti, of the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y., got his courage and selflessness. Maybe from his parents, a nurse and a teacher, or from the Army, where sacrifice and service are part of the drill. Maybe he had those virtues all along.
Whatever their source, they came out in full force on that desperate night in June 2006. When President Obama presented Sergeant Monti’s Medal of Honor to his parents, Janet and Paul, at the White House on Thursday, he retold the stunning act of valor. He repeated the sergeant’s words, which made it a simple matter of duty: “No, he is my soldier. I’m going to get him.”
It is no detraction from Sergeant Monti’s singular sacrifice to note that unselfish courage is hardly uncommon in combat. His story is one among thousands that have emerged from Afghanistan and Iraq, as in any war. Here is another: After the firefight, when the wounded private, Brian Bradbury, and a medic, Staff Sgt. Heathe Craig, were being hoisted to a helicopter, a cable snapped, and they fell to their deaths.
These are three of the dead from two conflicts that have killed more than 5,000 Americans since 2001. Rarely, very rarely, the country takes notice. Some of us paused briefly to do so on Thursday, then went on with our business. Medals and speeches, and newspaper articles, are inadequate in the face of such sacrifice, as Lincoln noted almost 150 years ago. There is little the rest of us can do, except to remember, with gratitude, what people like Sergeant Monti have done.