Thursday, December 10, 2009

Measuring the Distance Between Correct and Right

The level of stupidity to which we - the bipeds who occupy the dominant spot in the planetary pecking order - are willing to descend in order to enforce our rights never ceases to astound me. Just when you think that life has presented you with an individual or perhaps a conflagration of like-minded morons whose exploits top any you shall likely encounter anywhere else in your life's experience - regardless of its length or breadth - someone always emerges from the muck to make you say, "Wow! I had no idea that any person could be so obtuse."

It is late in the year I know and we are all supposed to be besotted with holiday cheer - or Grey Goose vodka (depending upon your cocktail of preference). The world is awash in good tidings, right? Well, not the entire world it seems. In fact, not even the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.

At some point in time, the newly-elected Governor of the Wahoo State might want to examine the curriculum in the Henrico County School District. He might want to ensure that at some point between K and 12, the local rug rats are being taught United States History. He might be inclined to order the curriculum examined by experts in the field to make sure that it passes muster.

The new Governor of Thomas Jefferson's playground might indeed want to take those extraordinary steps to ensure that the next generation of decision-makers produced in Henrico County is less likely to scrape their knuckles when they walk than those presently in place. Actually, in fairness to the rest of the residents of Henrico County, there appears to be a "stupid cluster" occupying the space more commonly known as Sussex Square. Given the enormity of the level of stupidity crammed into this one particular "community", it is likely an unfair drag on the County's overall aptitude.

If anyone affiliated with the "community" of Sussex Square had a rudimentary knowledge of history, then they would have presumably at some point stumbled across what it takes to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. And (at the risk of breaking an ankle while trying to stick the landing associated with such a prodigious leap of faith) once familiar with the fact that such an honor exists, one supposes that they would have made the acquaintance of Van T. Barfoot.

As a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army in World War II, Van T. Barfoot engaged in conduct deemed worthy of receipt of the Congressional Medal of Honor. According to the website for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, his citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 23 May 1944, near Carano, Italy. With his platoon heavily engaged during an assault against forces well entrenched on commanding ground, 2d Lt. Barfoot (then Tech. Sgt.) moved off alone upon the enemy left flank. He crawled to the proximity of 1 machinegun nest and made a direct hit on it with a hand grenade, killing 2 and wounding 3 Germans. He continued along the German defense line to another machinegun emplacement, and with his tommygun killed 2 and captured 3 soldiers. Members of another enemy machinegun crew then abandoned their position and gave themselves up to Sgt. Barfoot. Leaving the prisoners for his support squad to pick up, he proceeded to mop up positions in the immediate area, capturing more prisoners and bringing his total count to 17. Later that day, after he had reorganized his men and consolidated the newly captured ground, the enemy launched a fierce armored counterattack directly at his platoon positions. Securing a bazooka, Sgt. Barfoot took up an exposed position directly in front of 3 advancing Mark VI tanks. From a distance of 75 yards his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank, effectively disabling it, while the other 2 changed direction toward the flank. As the crew of the disabled tank dismounted, Sgt. Barfoot killed 3 of them with his tommygun. He continued onward into enemy terrain and destroyed a recently abandoned German fieldpiece with a demolition charge placed in the breech. While returning to his platoon position, Sgt. Barfoot, though greatly fatigued by his Herculean efforts, assisted 2 of his seriously wounded men 1,700 yards to a position of safety. Sgt. Barfoot's extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers.

You can decide for yourself what you consider to be more extraordinary: (a) what he did to merit receiving this nation's highest honor; (b) the fact that he lived through the experience; or (c) the fact that having done what is described in the preceding paragraph he continued to serve in the United States Army and fought for his country thereafter in Korea and Vietnam. He apparently retired from the Army as a Colonel. Since his retirement, he has in fact been recognized for his service. A portion of a highway in rural Mississippi, his native state, was named in his honor this fall. A building at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Richmond, also carries his name.

Yet this 90 year-old living American hero incurred the wrath of the homeowners' association in the "community" where he lives when he erected a 21-foot high flagpole upon which to fly his American flag after the powers that be expressly told him this past July that he could not. The basis for the denial was that his flagpole would damage the aesthetics of Sussex Square (no doubt it would have too as history is replete with examples of things that ruin the aesthetics of subdivisions.....such as the cookie-cutter nature of the homes). Apparently, the fact that Col. Barfoot had been willing to stand face-to-face with three advancing German tanks while wearing a bull's eye on his chest and carrying a bazooka in his arms was lost on the suburban warriors of Sussex Square. He erected his flagpole and thereafter raised his flag every morning and took it down every evening.

We are a litigious bunch - the species known as the American bi-ped - so the heroes of Sussex Square did what we often do (and thankfully for those of us with limited skills like yours truly) when someone tells us politely to p*ss off - they hired a lawyer. The Association's lawyer, "sent a priority-mail letter ordering Barfoot to remove the pole by 5 p.m. Friday or face "legal action being brought to enforce the covenants and restrictions against you." The letter states that Barfoot will be subject to paying all legal fees and costs in any successful legal proceeding pursued by the homeowners association's board."

Thankfully - and (permit me just a touch of cynicism here) perhaps predictably - when the local media picked up the story and it went national, Col. Barfoot discovered that he does indeed have friends in high places. Both United States Senators from Virginia, Messrs. Warner and Webb, came out very publicly in support of him as did a fella just putting the finishing touches on his first year settling into his new digs - at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Having been chastised publicly, the Association announced that it was dropping its threatened legal action against him - at least for the time-being.

The depths to which we are willing to descend to protect our little duchies never ceases to amaze me. And the inability of those standing with their faces pressed up against the glass to step away for a moment and see the big picture is equally stupefying. Candidly I care not whether Col. Barfoot knew of the covenant against having a flagpole in his front yard prior to moving into this collection of residences that is an apparent affront to the word "community" and chose to move in anyway. The magnitude of his lifetime's worth of selflessness is immeasurable. The closest we could do as a nation to even approximating it was to award him the Medal of Honor. In the ninth decade of a lifetime spent doing for others all he asked for was a modicum of consideration. And those closest to him in geographical proximity proved to be those most far removed from him in terms of the quality of their character.

The heroes of Sussex Square probably went to sleep last night feeling fairly good about themselves, comfortable in the delusion that they had done the right thing. They did not. Doing that which is correct and that which is appropriate is not the same as doing the right thing. And it is a pity that they lack the ability to discern the difference between the two.

Especially when there is one living among them who would likely be happy to explain it to them. And undoubtedly has the chops to do so.

-AK

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