Now that peace has come, most of the men and women in the armed services will return to civilian pursuits. Their uniforms will be hung in the back of some closet or interred with mothballs in a garret chest, while campaign bars and medals will be dropped into a catch-all, along with cuff links and collar buttons. Few people, even among their own intimate circles, will know those who were honored for distinguished service until years later when obituaries of hero friends mention the fact in a local newspaper. Then many a friend and neighbor will say, “Wish I had known that about Jones before. Never heard him mention it, yet here he was-—a real war hero.”
It is a national characteristic to be extremely modest, and not to parade, or even display, individual honors, particularly those received in war. Just what the reason may be for this reticence is hard to know, but prowess in time of war, unlike athletic, academic, or professional merit, seems to be concealed by the individual and ignored by the community at large. Is it possible that public opinion, after intelligent consideration, will change this viewpoint as we now move into a new era of peace? Retention of military awards as initials after the name, on proper occasions, could be made to aid in the evaluation of a “serviceman-civilian,” much as professional or academic degrees give some indication of the character and background of trained or honored men in other fields. These national and military honors were bestowed by the nation for outstanding performance in helping to win the war. The individuals who received them are our own chosen few, and deserve more from their countrymen than a piece of ribbon or a medal modestly concealed as soon as possible and thereafter ignored by the donor as well as the recipient.
The peace is not yet too new for us to understand the reasons why we won the most extensive war in our history. Two outstanding causes were the productive capacity of the nation and the quality of our fighting men. Both factors were greatly underrated by both Germany and Japan, and both surprised, by their eminence, our own military, business, and government leaders. Undoubtedly strategical experts had reported to the German general staff our inability to produce ships and planes or to train and equip an Army and Navy fast enough to interfere with the successes of their carefully planned blitz war. Our enemies bet on the slowness, if not the inability, of a democracy unskilled in the arts of military production and the fundamentals of military discipline to produce the technical arms of modern warfare and to fight with them effectively.
Our enemies have lost their bet and all else too. They overlooked the remarkable adaptability of our people. They underestimated our organizational and practical genius which could build and equip the world’s greatest fleet at an almost superhuman rate and produce the implements of war in a quality and quantity surpassing our opponents. They depreciated our ability to draft ourselves into the largest fighting force in the world, and to make well-trained soldiers and sailors overnight from peaceful, peace-loving, democratic citizens. The patriotic, often highly unselfish, efforts of Americans in all walks of life from top industrial leaders to humblest farmhand won the victory, for all served where and as they could. “Fifty thousand planes! Impossible!” But, the manufacturers turned them out. “One million amphibious troops!” The youth of the country molded itself to meet the need.
While all served to the best of their ability in every type of vital national effort, there were some individuals who did what they were called upon to do outstandingly well. To them, as heroes of naval, military, and individual battles, went the citations—the ribbons and medals awarded by appreciative commanders for a grateful nation. These heroes were not all found fighting in the front line. Every professional Army and Navy officer readily admits that, without the patriotism of thousands of educated men who contributed their leadership and technical skill, the officer requirements for a colossal Army and Navy would never have been met. Many men, not waiting for the draft, volunteered their services to the War and Navy Departments in whatever capacity they could serve best, while other patriotic citizens became dollar a year men who worked long hours without letup to get the machinery of war in operation to meet gigantic production schedules. Public recognition of their outstanding services has brought them decorations from a grateful nation, just as men using weapons they produced have been recommended for acts of heroism in battle or for planning engagements and supplying the fighting forces. Probably never before in our national history have so many outstanding deeds of heroism and so many unselfish services been performed as in the recent struggle, and those performing them have included men and women from every walk of civilian life.
The receipt of any national decoration, much like a personal “well done,” leaves the recipient in a pleasant glow of embarrassed modesty. The achievement and award, however, are usually deprecated either through fear that display indicates a boasting show- off attitude or because, in this democratic country with its prejudice against any privileged class or caste, publicity might appear as an attempt to create a privileged group of war heroes. Of course, either situation is far from likely. Unselfish patriotism is still a national ideal, and since the number of decorated individuals is proportionately small to total participants in the war, and is composed of civilians as well as members of military and naval organizations, more general recognition of them by the public might be a desirable and intelligent thing. Thus, it seems reasonable that an official signature should contain the initials C.M.H. or D.F.C. to indicate that the signer has won the Medal of Honor or the Distinguished Flying Cross.
There are many groups in our country who are not averse to placing honors after their names. People in academic life make it a point of professional pride to write the initials denoting scholastic and honorary degrees after their names and to collect as many of them as possible. Every Ph.D. is pleased to be addressed as “Doctor.” The various medical men place the initials of their professional category after their names as a matter of course for proper identification, as do lawyers or even men of finance who have won or been awarded college degrees in business subjects. Distinctive honorary titles are common in the democratic United States where individuals or groups are in certain official positions which entitle them to distinctive salutation. Our President, cabinet members, senators, members of the House of Representatives, ambassadors, government ministers to foreign countries, governors, mayors, judges, and many others, all have their own particular title or form of address, as do the ecclesiastical group and officers of our armed services. In none of these cases is it considered a violation of our democratic practice to use these titles or to place abbreviations denoting positions of honor after the name. In Great Britain, the initials for the Victoria Cross are as generally known, honored, and inscribed after the name of one who has received them for heroic service, as are the more usual initials of university degrees. Appreciation of war honors serves to place the individual in the social scheme of things, just as do other types of initials, for they are all designations denoting individual accomplishments of a man or the position he holds in the group by reason of appointment, election, or performance.
The use of titles and honorary initials to indicate awards of merit is as sound psychologically in time of peace as in time of war. For this reason, the many members of our great citizen army and navy who have been decorated should be encouraged to permit the people of the nation to obtain the knowledge, and to have the opportunity of honoring them when they return to their civilian pursuits. They should be encouraged to wear the lapel miniature of their highest award, and the public should be educated to recognize the different types and their significance. This could be done easily and logically now, with so many heroes returning, through ordinary publicity methods and by instruction of the young people in schools.
If the initials of an award received in war were habitually placed after a surname whenever it appeared in print, a new tradition with probable beneficial social effects would be established. Then, whenever a man’s name appeared in the press or in a group or club roster, among a list of candidates, or on a program, he would be officially known as John Porter Brown, C.M.H. In this way, it would be known that in time of national emergency he had so conducted himself as to win the highest award and the supreme honor given by the nation. In a short time, every adult, as well as every youngster in the land would know the meaning and significance of the initials which indicate unusual valor.
Decorations are incentives as well as rewards. The psychology of peacetime publicity of a wartime honor upon the recipient is bound to be good. The serviceman returning to civilian life finds many difficult readjustment problems, and any praise or preference given him for his extraordinary national service is not only a method of expressing confirmatory gratitude but is also likely to be a “leg-up” in the reorientation process.
It is suggested, therefore, that all civilian recipients of major decorations, that is, the Medal of Honor, Marine Corps Brevet Medal, Navy Cross, and the Distinguished Service Medal, be permitted, by virtue of having received such a decoration, to inscribe the initial of these awards after their names. For other decorations, such as the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Silver Star or Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation could include the phrase “and you are entitled to inscribe the initials of this award after your name,” if the degree of the decoration merited that honor. Furthermore, only the initials of the highest honor should be used.
An indication that the country at large is interested in decorations received for war service is found in a program of one of the leading broadcasting companies called simply “C.M.H.” Each week the program dramatizes expertly the life and heroism of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. Both the broadcasting company and sponsor state that the purpose of this program, unique in popular entertainment, is to establish in America the recognition and use of the letters “C.M.H.,” and “to make these letters a familiar and honorable title.” Each week’s program opens and closes with a plea, “Let us write after their names forever . . . their highest degree of heroism, C.M.H.”
The same plea holds good for all men and women of our great civilian Army, Navy, and Marine Corps who served in such outstanding ways during the war that they have won a major decoration. Whereas in previous wars it has been the tragic fate of almost 50 per cent of the winners of Congressional Medals of Honor to die in battle, most of the winners of other rewards have survived and slipped into post-war obscurity. This is probably unintentional on the part of hero- loving Americans. Some effective means such as the use of honor initials should be developed now to remind them of national service gallantly performed before new events dim war memories and bitterly won honors become anonymous.
Many long enduring traditions have had their origins in time of war. Now at the conclusion of World War II, it is possible for the tradition to originate that it is good form for a man to inscribe, after his surname, the initials of the decorations awarded in a national emergency. Let those who have been honored in war be honored also in peace by something beyond those measures which can be incorporated in legislation for veterans’ benefits. It should not be necessary to learn from a man’s obituary that he has contributed outstandingly to his country’s safety in time of war. In peace, all men distinguished by national or service decorations should bear the initials of their awards after their names so that their fellowmen may more fully respect them, and the youth of the country be inspired by their example.
It can never be a violation of democratic ideals to honor in peace those of our citizenry who have served gloriously and at great sacrifice to preserve those ideals.