Heroes and medals

Two overdue upgrades, a hero on the Hill, and 7 other things worth your time.

“Armed only with their phones and some of the best Rolodexes in the world, lawmakers and their aides began calling and texting anyone they thought could help — the secretary of the Army, the acting attorney general, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, governors of nearby states, the D.C. mayor.”

Washington Post article on what it was like inside the Capital for some top officials.


Correction: The Washington Monument is 555 feet 5 inches tall, not 554 feet as I wrote Saturday. Supposedly it’s just because the building is 10 times taller than its base is wide… but as a reader who pointed out the error mentioned, you have to wonder if there’s some other numerological or superstitious reasoning.


Welcome to all of our new readers over the weekend. I’m glad you’re here and I hope you enjoy Understandably. I also hope you’ll maybe share this with others who might like it, and encourage them to sign up, too.


I’m struck by the stories of two heroes this morning, both of whom are getting long-overdue, posthumous medals.

First: Thomas M. Conway, a 37-year-old Catholic priest who was a Navy chaplain in World War II. In the last days of the war, he was aboard the USS Indianapolis, which was sunk by a Japanese submarine.

This was a tragedy on so many levels. The ship’s sinking went unnoticed by the Navy for several days—basically, a bunch of people didn’t do their jobs when they noticed the ship hadn’t checked in. This mean that even after 300 sailors died quickly, another 800 or so were left floating in shark-infested waters, with almost no food or potable water.

Conway died, along with all but 316 others. Survivors said that he survived 3 1/2 days, and swam from group to group of sailors, offering the sacraments of baptism and last rites, and keeping morale up as best he could.

He died on Day 4, just before a Navy patrol plan happened, by pure luck, to spot the survivors. Last week, 75 years after the fact, the military awarded him the Navy Cross, which is the second highest medal for valor.

Second: Alwyn Cashe, who was a 35-year-old sergeant first class in Iraq. He died from severe burn wounds in 2005, 19 days after his Bradley Fighting Vehicle hit an IED.

Cashe actually escaped with just minor injuries at first, but he ran back into the burning vehicle several times to pull out other wounded soldiers who were trapped. He was drenched with fuel in the process, and his clothing and eventually his skin caught fire.

“Despite the terrible pain,” an official citation said, Ashe kept going back to save others. “[A]ll the while, he was still on fire.”

The same kind of bureaucratic regulations held up Ashe’s recognition as Conway’s; he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, but people have tried ever since to get it upgraded to the highest award, the Medal of Honor.

It’s worth noting that Ashe would be the only Black soldier from the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq awarded the Medal of Honor. Congress supported upgrading it overwhelmingly, and the Pentagon signed off earlier this month; it’s now waiting for President Trump’s signature.

(At least until all the things that happened last week, all indications were that Trump would sign the award before he leaves office.)

Why mention them today? Well, besides being always willing to share a story or two of heroism in this newsletter, I’m struck by why people work so hard to set the record straight for heroes like this, 15 or even 75 years later.

It also strikes me that both men’s awards recognize saving and comforting fellow sailors and soldiers, as opposed to being for offensive heroics. I find that appealing.

As time goes by, going back like this to correct the record is less about them, and more about us affirming as a society the kinds of things we value.


As long as we’re speaking of people who might deserve a medal, and as more details emerge of the assault on the Capitol, remember the name Eugene Goodman. He’s a Capitol Police officer who faced at least a dozen or so of the first insurgents who breached the building.

It looks as if he was one of the true heroes of the day. Video at the scene appears to show Goodman as he realized that the mob got within 10 feet of the unguarded door to the U.S. Senate chamber, where lawmakers had gathered, and the electoral college ballots themselves were located.

So, Officer Goodman feinted, and tricked the crowd into chasing him away from the Senate chamber, running instead in the wrong direction. When you line this up with the timeline of other reports, it seems the extra seconds Goodman bought allowed the senators to escape.

You can see it all in this video (highly recommended), or the still frames below. The entrance to the Senate is between the two chairs in the first photo; you can see clearly that Goodman turns and realizes the door is unguarded. (By the way the guy in the knit cap at the front of the crowd is Douglas Jensen; the FBI arrested him in Iowa over the weekend.)


7 other things worth your time

  • I’ve been writing a bit the last couple of days. First, Business Insider asked for my take on the aftermath of the Capitol Hill assault. It’s behind a paywall, so unless you’re lickety-split with your “Esc button” while it loads, I’ll flatter myself and share my two main points here: (a) We need a 9/11 Commission-style investigation into every detail of the whole thing, and (b) the attack brought us closer to invoking the Presidential Succession Act than ever before in history, which should light a fire to rewrite it ASAP, since the law is a ticking time bomb. (I’ve written about that mess here, before.) (Business Insider, $)

  • It was 25 years ago this month that Sun Microsystems almost bought Apple. I wrote about what then-Apple CEO Gil Amelio says happened, including the 10 words he says he uttered that signaled the end of the deal. Given how ubiquitous Apple is — heck, I’m writing this on a MacBook Air and I suspect 50% of you are reading it on iPhones — it’s wild to think of what might have happened. (Me, on Inc..)

  • Last one from me… Almost all the big airlines have banned emotional support animals from their cabins as of last week. Even though this was like, seven crises ago, a lot of airline employees and flight attendants rejoiced. (Me again, on Inc.)

  • Parler, the so-called free speech social network that a lot of supporters of President Trump flocked to after his Twitter account was banned, is facing its own possible demise. Apple and Google removed it from their app stores for failing to police violence and threats, but even bigger: Amazon’s AWS banned it as well. (Fox Business)

  • Separately, after Facebook and Twitter banned President Trump from their platforms, the dam broke. Among other things, Stripe said it won’t process payments for Trump campaign merchandise. Pinterest, Reddit and TikTok banned him. Even the PGA said it won’t host the 2022 championship at one of Trump’s golf clubs. Axios, TMZ, NYT, $)

  • When Black babies are delivered by Black doctors, their mortality rate is cut in half, according to a new study. (The Washington Post, $)

  • OK, one more Tom Brady item. He’s now the oldest quarterback ever to throw a touchdown in the playoffs, and during his game Saturday, NBC ran a graphic showing him side by side with the second-youngest. Let’s just say that he looks like he’s about 24 in comparison, and that a lot of people are suddenly thinking: hmmm, maybe Brady’s legendarily strict diet is worth thinking about.


 If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, gosh, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.  

And of course, please share Understandably! Seriously, if you’ve wondered, What can I do to help Bill build this? That’s the #1 thing—for people who enjoy this newsletter to encourage friends and family to sign up as well. Thank you!

Share Understandably

One-click review and feedback: