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The Difference Between Supporting Soldiers and Supporting War

This is a post of an email from Terry Cuff.

I respect Terry more than he may know.

I respect Terry more than many I know.

After reading an email from Terry about: (i) Marine Capt. Brian R. Chontosh; (ii) certain other unrecognized heroes; and (iii) the recent plethora of war-bashing press reports, I decided that I wanted to discuss these topics in this forum. In particular, I wanted to distinguish between my support of the soldiers (which I do) and supporting this war (which I don’t).

After spending an hour writing and re-writing, it occurred to me that Terry’s prose is just fine. I hope he doesn’t mind that I merely cut-and-paste from his email.

These words are Terry’s…in many ways I wish that they were mine.

From Terry Cuff:

“There is a lot of negative publicity about Iraq. Not all is negative, but sometimes the positive items receive little press.

Brian Chontosh is a Marine Corps infantry captain now stationed at the Marine Corps installation at 29 Palms. He attended Churchville-Chili Central School class of 1991. He graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, then First Lieutenant Chontosh was a Marine infantry platoon leader leading his platoon up Highway 1 in a humvee. His column was ambushed by heavy machine gun fire, mortar fire, and rocket propelled grenades.

First Lieutenant Chontosh attacked. He told his driver to charge in the humvee directly at the machine gun emplacement that was firing at them from the flank. He ordered his .50 cal. gunner to engage. They destroyed and moved through the machine gun position and advanced on entrenched Iraqi troops. The humvee was disabled. First Lieutenant Chontosh continued his attack with his M16 and a Beretta. He cleared out the trench of Iraqi hostiles. He exhausted his M16 magazines and continued his attack with his Beretta automatic pistol. He exhausted its ammunition and continued his attack with a captured AK47. He exhausted its ammunition and continued his attack with a captured Iraqi rocket propelled grenade.

First Lieutenant Chontosh cleared 200 yards of trench and killed 20 or more enemy combatants. Captain Chontosh was recently awarded the Navy Cross for valor in combat.

Many stories like this never make the press — or are small items. Many men and women return from Iraq with similar stories of heroism.

We may debate the wisdom of the American operations in the Republic of Iraq and the details of how they have been prosecuted. None of us likes the casualties, but there are always casualties in war — typically many more than we have experienced in Iraq. Some incidents (such as Abu Ghraib) have been deeply troubling. (Vietnam had its Mai Lai. World War II had its share of incidents, but they generally were kept fairly quiet.) It is important to separate whatever negative thoughts any of us may have toward the operations from the men who served. These guys and gals did not go to Iraq because they considered it a vacation paradise. They left friends, families, and loved ones. Iraq is hot, dusty, and every day contains threats of sniper fire or improvised explosive devices. Iraq is not a pleasant place to serve.

It is important to recognize the sacrifices of the men and women who have served there and not to confuse them with a few whose service has not been so honorable.

The story about Captain Chontosh was forwarded to me by my former Basic School (Quantico) roommate. He served two tours of duty with First Force Reconnaissance Company in the Republic of Vietnam. Joe was nominated for the Medal of Honor and was awarded the Navy Cross for his service in Vietnam. He retired from the Marine Corps as a major. That is about as high as one is going to rise in a force reconnaissance career. There were no great parades and he received no recognition outside of the Marine Corps. Now we most remember the charges before Congress: “they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.” Servicemen who had served in Vietnam were none too popular when they returned stateside.

I am reminded of an afternoon I spent at the United States Naval Academy in 1992. I was particularly anxious to visit there, since my parents were married in the Naval Academy chapel, above the John Paul Jones crypt. I visited the alumni association bookstore. An old man sat in the corner behind a card table. The table was piled with copies of a book about submarines. The old man wore slacks and a polo shirt. What immediately captured my attention was a medallion about his neck, a golden star suspended from a light blue ribbon. Gold Star and Light Blue RibbonHe seemed quite abandoned by everyone, tossed in the corner like a piece of old baggage, as no one was showing up to purchase his book. I went over to talk to him. He explained that he had been a submarine captain both before and during the Second World War. We discussed the Mark XIV torpedo and its influence fuse, which I imagined always was a disaster. He explained that they sometimes worked and sometimes did not. We may have spent an hour discussing submarines in the Pacific during the Second World War. He commanded the Bonito and the Barb during the Second World War. I wish I could have stayed longer. He was an interesting man, and I learned a lot from our conversation. Like so many who served in wars, he now seemed cast aside — even on the campus of the Naval Academy. Seeing him sitting alone in his polo shirt with his light blue ribbon and gold star medallion is a sad memory. I do not think that many in the bookstore recognized it — or that they would have recognized his four Navy Crosses.

I hope that men and women returning from Republic of Iraq will receive a little more public support than those who returned from the Republic of Vietnam.

Perhaps, when you read negative stories about our armed forces in Iraq, you will also think a little of Captain Brian Chontosh, USMC, and also of Corporal Alex Lemons, USMC — or maybe even Rear Admiral Eugene Fluckey, USN. Whatever the faults of American operations in Iraq, many men and women have served in Iraq honorably and heroically and at great personal cost to themselves and their families. They put their lives at risk for us on a daily basis. They deserve our support.”


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1 Comment

  1. Brian Sunday

    Do you know where Major Brian Chontosh is stationed now and how I can contact him?
    Thanks, Brian Sunday
    Little River, SC 29566

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