No Greater Love

I still remember reading a book in elementary school about the stories of several different Medal of Honor winners. While it is impossible to imagine compiling a book about MOH winners without including a chapter on Audie Murphy, his story was not the one that stayed with me all of these years.

Now that the MOH citations are available on-line, I spent a few minutes searching and found the story that I first read as a child. Hopefully after reading the citation, you will understand why the story of Billie Kanell was so unforgettable.


Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, Company I, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Pyongyang, Korea, 7 September 1951. Entered service at: Poplar Bluff, Mo. Born: 26 June 1931, Poplar Bluff, Mo. G.O. No.: 57, 13 June 1952.

Citation: Pvt. Kanell, a member of Company I, distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and outstanding courage above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy. A numerically superior hostile force had launched a fanatical assault against friendly positions, supported by mortar and artillery fire, when Pvt. Kanell stood in his emplacement exposed to enemy observation and action and delivered accurate fire into the ranks of the assailants.

An enemy grenade was hurled into his emplacement and Pvt. Kanell threw himself upon the grenade, absorbing the blast with his body to protect 2 of his comrades from serious injury and possible death. A few seconds later another grenade was thrown into the emplacement and, although seriously wounded by the first missile, he summoned his waning strength to roll toward the second grenade and used his body as a shield to again protect his comrades.

He was mortally wounded as a result of his heroic actions. His indomitable courage, sustained fortitude against overwhelming odds, and gallant self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon himself, the infantry, and the U.S. Army.

The story of Pvt. Kanell is completely different than the one we looked at last year:

– At Omaha Beach, the men were part of the largest amphibious landing ever undertaken. At Pyongyang, Pvt Kanell was in a foxhole with two friends fighting for their lives.

– The men on Omaha Beach died heroically trying to carry out the plan that they had spent many months training for. Pvt Kanell’s actions far exceeded any training he had ever received.

– The sacrifices made on D-Day have been recognized in many books, stories, and movies. Pvt Kanell’s sacrifice may only be remembered by two friends and his family.

What does it mean to pay honor to the memories of the men and women that have died in service to their country?

Honoring our fallen heroes should be more than a mental image of markers at Arlington. It should be more than just watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It should be more than the sound of Taps played on a lone trumpet.

Those of us that have never been in combat will struggle to fully appreciate the courage and sacrifice of those that have. However, if we don’t take the time to learn their stories, how can we ever claim to honor their memory?

There is nothing that I can say that adequately pays tribute to the sacrifices made on Omaha Beach or by Private Kanell. Recognizing the differences between the two situations in no way diminishes the enormous sacrifice made in either case. I believe that when we take the effort to learn and to remember the unique circumstances behind each story, we have at least begun to properly honor their memory.

As we pay tribute to Billie Kanell this Memorial Day, we would be remiss if we did not mention the unique company in which he stands. By one count, over 140 Medals of Honor have been awarded to men who dove on hand grenades to protect their fellow soldiers…their friends. Luckily for us, there are still men and women that willingly lay down their life for their friends and for us. Such selfless acts of sacrifice should never be forgotten.

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
John 15:13

About VaWolf82

Engineer living in Central Va. and senior curmudgeon amongst SFN authors One wife, two kids, one dog, four vehicles on insurance, and four phones on cell plan...looking forward to empty nest status. Graduated 1982


16 Responses to No Greater Love

  1. redfred2 05/28/2007 at 12:29 PM #

    They don’t make ’em like that anymore, or maybe they do? Maybe it’s just that those types who sacrificed to earn us our rights and freedoms just aren’t seen quite as much as such heroes anymore. They are now considered the low lifes who serve only because they didn’t many other options here at home. They would be here, fighting against everything the war if they had any sense. Not out there following orders, winning the battles, and doing their jobs like their fathers and grandfathers before them.

    That type of bravery and personal scarifice for the welfare others still exists out there somewhere, I’m sure. Just maybe not so much in the good ol’ US of A anymore. When everything around them is being constantly questioned, and without ever a better option or any worthwhile answers being offered up in contrast. I would think that it’s a little harder and may seem outright foolish to sacrifice one’s own life when the cause you’re fighting for is scoffed at to begin with.

    Thank GOD there were men like that back in those days though. Maybe if we stay on this current course as a nation where we’re considered the enemy by our own citizens, then we’ll quickly drop to a point where modern day bravery and similar personal sacrifices will start to make all the sense in the world, and mean something once again.

  2. redfred2 05/28/2007 at 12:37 PM #

    ^ “They”…should say… “Their modern day equivalents” are now considered the…

  3. VaWolf82 05/28/2007 at 1:00 PM #

    Luckily for us, redfred is wrong….there are still men and women like that today.

    One of the first Marines to enter the house, Peralta was wounded in the face by rifle fire from a room near the entry door, said Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison, 20, of Tacoma, who was in the house when Peralta was first wounded.

    Moments later, an insurgent rolled a fragmentation grenade into the area where a wounded Peralta and the other Marines were seeking cover.

    As Morrison and another Marine scrambled to escape the blast, pounding against a locked door, Peralta grabbed the grenade and cradled it into his body, Morrison said. While one Marine was badly wounded by shrapnel from the blast, the Marines said they believe more lives would have been lost if not for Peralta’s selfless act.

  4. gopack968 05/28/2007 at 4:12 PM #

    Cpl Jason Dunham won the MOH on 14 April 2004 in Iraq for similar gallantry. So hard to understand such instantaneous valor and sacrifice, and so important to pause and remember it.

    My hero has always been Captain James Burt, who served as the honorary colonel of my tank regiment when I was a young armor officer. As a company commander in WWII he won the MOH for his gallantry over several days of intense combat in the battle for Aachen. He visited the regiment several times in Germany during the Cold War. A humble man, he would not speak of his own actions, but instead reflect on the sacrifices of the many men who fell in his command. As he recalled, at the final parade of the tank company at the end of the war, only he and his mess sergeant remained from the original 95 men who came ashore at Normandy on D+5.

    We are lucky to have such men and women, then and now.

  5. choppack1 05/28/2007 at 5:30 PM #

    History channel is showing Band of Brothers today…There’s also a great commercial that shows troops coming home from Iraq being welcomed by loved ones – it brought tears to my eyes. I’m telling you, there are hundreds of thousands making the sacrifice…I was on traveling on the road 3 consecutive weeks – I cannot imagine being away from wife and family in a hostile environment for a year and a half. These men wearing the uniform, remain, by and large, heroes.

  6. oldflyingfarmer 05/28/2007 at 5:32 PM #

    Leave it to the liberal press to not let you hear a lot of these stories.

  7. redfred2 05/28/2007 at 8:52 PM #


    If you’ll please carefully re-read, I did not say there weren’t still brave heroes out there right now, I said they aren’t getting their dues because of the anti-war, anti-everything, climate in the country right. Which, like ^ the last poster said, is spurred on by the press and folks like our good ol’ and supposedly “former” President Jimmie Carter. Stories of people following orders and doing what needs to be done don’t fit their liberal agenda so they don’t get reported.

    BTW, I just saw where Cindy Sheehan (sp) wrote and just turned in a resignation with regards to her place in the war protest. I don’t know to who, or why, or where she submitted it, or why she feels the need to do something like that at this time, but she did. It’s funny but I had almost become comfortable without seeing her face on the news every day, I guess it was a perfect opportunity for her to get back in the headlines.

  8. LRM 05/29/2007 at 9:12 AM #

    I believe the biggest difference between our generation and our grandfathers’ generation isn’t necessarily the ordinary citizens that stepped up to the challenge and served and fought and literally saved the world. Men like that still exist today and we should honor them. The biggest difference is that our generation has no idea what real sacrifice is (myself included); in the 1930s and 40s everyone sacrificed their way of life, not just the servicemen. That’s why the Greatest Generation is so remarkable. Or maybe it just takes a couple generations to realize what our servicemen actually provide for us.

  9. redfred2 05/29/2007 at 10:01 AM #

    ^Well said LRM. I’ll be brutally honest here, I thought that around or about five to seven days after 9-11, we should have picked our most likely suspect and then proceeded to totally annililate a tiny little spot on the planet. Sorry if that sounds brutal and cold, but I felt we needed to say to the rest of the world that we will not tolerate such acts, sorry if we didn’t exactly hit the right target this time, but don’t ANYONE EVER try anything like this again.

    But, in an effort to look like we were THE nation who is a step above all of that, we sat back and coldly calculated where we going to make our stand. We waited too long and we lost any and all of backing from every other country on the planet, along with many of our own citizens, who would have totally understood if we had quickly lashed out in awesome display of firepower during a fit of rage. Thus allowing our interest in foreign oil to become a pawn, the Bush’s I & II prior history with Sadam Hussein became a matter of debate, and the dreaded words “weapons of mass destruction” totally derailed the entire focus. Unfortunately, I don’t know how many more 9-11’s it will take to change some attitudes, but it clearly evident that it is so much easier to stay totally detached when the battle is being fought on foreign soil.

    Sorry to go into all of that, but the men and women who are over there following orders and doing their jobs to the best of their abilities right now, are just as noble as the guys who fought the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Those inspirational servicemen portrayed in the old black and white movies, men who crouched down and sat there totally exposed, in the belly turrents of a B52, or those who were down below, taking on depth charges in a submarine, back in WWII. Modern day politics and personal viewpoints will enter into it, and the history books will never portray these current American soldiers that way, but they are just as worthy of our respect and our appreciation.

  10. redfred2 05/29/2007 at 10:17 AM #

    I know someone will jump me and say Iraq has nothing to do with 9-11, and I’m sure they believe that too.

  11. haze 05/29/2007 at 12:34 PM #

    rf- Regardless of our almost assuredly opposing political views visa vis the current war, I agree wholeheartedly that today’s soldiers are every bit as courageous and dedicated as those that fought in previous wars. Generally, a soldier chooses his fight no more than any of us choose our time on earth. He or she simply does his job, typically with honor and great effect and almost always more emotionally in the service of his companions than in the service of the generals or the republic. As such, soldiers should respected and memorialized for the merits of their service and not for the political ends or methods that put them in the field.

    Personally, while reserving the right to virulently oppose the political calculations that landed us and hold us in the current Iraq conflict, I still greatly appreciate the sacrifice of the men and women that have been deployed in that theater. May they all come home safe and whole.

  12. TomCat 05/29/2007 at 1:32 PM #

    Soldiers don’t debate politics they go and perform their mission. That is what they are trained to do. They are the strongest fighting force on earth and do the bidding of the United States government. With all their strength- they are also helplessly dependent on us- the U.S. citizens- to do our duty and make damn sure- if we are going to ask them to spill their blood and lay down their life- it is for a right and just cause- of preserving this country. They don’t ask questions- they defend this country when called for. It is up to us- it is our awesome responsiblity to bear- to honor them, cherish what they do and make it a last resort when they have to do it.

  13. redfred2 05/29/2007 at 6:25 PM #

    Well, this got out of hand for a while. The only purpose of this entry was to pay tribute to those who gave that last full measure of devotion in defense of our country. We don’t debate sex, religion, or politics here and certainly don’t want to discuss strategy for the War on Terror.

  14. noah 05/29/2007 at 6:53 PM #

    Just stop. We’re not supposed to tolerate 9/11 but the rest of the world is supposed to tolerate complete and total genocide??

    Just….stop. We get it, you were pissed. We all were.

    For those interested in the military, check out the series on Boot Camp that Rolling Stone did last year. One of the more interesting facts they mentioned was the incredibly high failure rate during WWII. Basically, the US and it’s allies and counterparts took ordinary folks off the street, put a uniform on their back, a gun in their hand and with pretty minimal training, sent them off to war. And almost universally, those soldiers did a whole lot of missing when they fired their weapons.

    It’s why the casualty rates for WWII weren’t much, much, MUCH worse. Yeah, it was bad and there was a whole lotta killing going on. But the military brass started realizing that their soldiers’ concience was getting in the way. So they started working on new forms of basic training to try and overcome that barrier.

    As a result, in each conflict since WWII, the hit-to-miss ratio for rounds fired has gotten better…and better…and better. It’s not that soldiers today are better shots. It’s just that we’re better at training humans to kill one another.

    Interesting articles for those interested in military training.

  15. redfred2 05/30/2007 at 5:01 PM #


    Sorry about that, I totally agree, I stand corrected.

  16. highstick 05/31/2007 at 11:09 AM #

    I decided to take a break after my sophomore year at State in 1965 or so that was my thought anyway. I was working in Atlanta when “all hell broke loose” in Vietnam and I enlisted in the Army in March, 66 rather than being drafted in April, 66. I was very fortunate and went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA for linguistic training after boot camp at Ft. Jackson.

    Last spring, I went back to Monterey to revisit after 40 years. I had the opportunity to take a tour of the “language school” with a retired dean of the school. So much has changed since then, but the biggest impression that I got out of the visit came from talking with a few of the current student soldiers(both men and women).

    We are in good hands if the “politicians would just let them do their jobs!” The current group is the best trained military that we’ve ever had. I just hope we don’t “burn them out” with repeat deployments.

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