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Obama’s Eloquent Elegy to an American Hero

President Obama offered a moving tribute to one of America’s great war heroes yesterday, awarding U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry in saving his comrades during an operation in Laos.

Etchenberger paid with his life, and is finally receiving his due some forty years later.

Obama may be growing into his role as commander in chief. The president seemed comfortable surrounded by the brass during the East Room event, and he gave a heartfelt speech about Etchberger’s heroics. The remarks couldn’t have been done much better. And no, TOTUS was not in anywhere in sight.

One of my press corps colleagues noted perceptively that when Obama gets himself out of the way, he reminds everyone of the man who inspired the country to elect him.

Indeed, the fangs-bared politician we’ve seen of late digging his canines into Boehner and the rest of the Republicans is a mistake made by White House image counselors who have set the president loose on the attack. He avoided such rhetoric for much of the campaign – both in the primaries and the general. The sudden appearance of Bad Obama has undermined the chief rationale people had for voting him in, and it makes his earlier image look like a sham.

So let’s take a walk down memory lane. This speech is worth taking a look at. Even if you don’t like the president, he is your president. Our enemies are plotting against us, and we may all one day need the man you see in evidence here to inspire us to confront a great challenge, just as Bush did in 2001.

I was in the East Room and took a few pictures for you. Here, the room is prepared for the ceremony.


The crowd, including Veterans Affairs Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki, files in and gets seated.


Obama delivers his remarks.


Vice President Biden, left, and Defense Secretary Gates listen in.


Obama and Etchberger’s three sons bow their heads as a prayer is read.

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10 Responses to Obama’s Eloquent Elegy to an American Hero

  1. I watched the ceremony. Honors for our Vietnam vets are long overdue.
    It brought back memories of friends lost or disabled by their bravery and service to our country during that war.

    In a strange way, the tea party movement brings back memories of those times. The spontaneous dissent of millions of people for a government policy, for a hopeless war that won’t ever be won and cries for a change make the 60-70’s years look like the 09-10’s.

  2. I have been thinking of Viet Nam lately because I am disagreeing with some people in my online audiobook club (I listen) and with my sister about Matterhorn, the Viet Nam book by Karl Marlantes. I felt it needed massive editing and the Marines were sort of cartoonishly depicted (some of the officers sort of like MASH meanies, drunks, and weirdos). The black power element, to me, was also overdrawn, fraggings seemed common in this book, which I do not think they were. Anyway, I dated a guy who said he learned to fall asleep in cold water except for his nose, another boy friend only lived 3 weeks in country. My ex was in the area of the book, up north near Laos and in 1965, too. He received a Bronze Star, but for Santo Domingo–remember that one? Yes, I have been thinking about this, too–and it’s relation to our present wars. The constant is the troops–their incredible toughness, male or female…I could never do it.

    • Thanks Star. Interesting to hear that you knew all these people in the war. The Vietnam War seems like it was so much more immediate to people’s consciousness then the wars now. We had so many more people fighting it, but also it was more equitable with the draft and the remaining wealthy people who still felt it was their duty to serve. This war is being fought by a small group of dedicated Americans who don’t get much attention, including, at least publicly, from the president. At least this book will remind everyone that we are at war.

  3. I wonder if war is a natural state of humankind. People vacay in Viet Nam now–or Germany and Japan. Probably someday in Iraq–maybe not the “stans,” but who knows… The soldiers are just as dead, just as mourned, hust as remembered, frozen in amber, but the scene around them has changed and will change again. It’s so weird.

  4. If anyone happens to go to the Wall, since I am on this subj, could you pick out Nicholas Krimont…about eye height just to the right of the “V”–he went early…that is where the names start–to the right of the V.

  5. When Obama speaks from the HEART we occassionally see the REAL Obama and you can’t help but like him, warts and all. And I have to agree with you, love him or hate him, he is our President. I remember a Texas Congressman’s comment about Bill Clinton:

    “Yeah, well, he’s a downright sorry son-of-a-bitch if you ask me. But he’s OUR son-of-a-bitch!” Followed by a smile in which the Congressman stated that you can differ with someone but in the end, you must respect them.

  6. Keith — do you have Michelle Obama’s schedule for this day? I am curious to see if she might have worn this inappropriate frock and pink heels to the ceremony in order to avoid having to change later for some other event.

    • I don’t – I assume she stayed with the president and that there schedules were the same. Was she really wearing pink heels along with the colorful dress i saw to this? Gosh.

  7. Yes, indeed, pink kitten heels. I’m sure it cheered up the family of the fallen hero to see her decked out like a Christmas tree. Doubtless that’s why this selfless First Lady wore them.