During last night’s Democratic debate, CNN’s Anderson Cooper noted that each of the candidates had made a number of enemies during their careers in politics and asked them which enemy they were most proud of. The question prompted one of the debate’s most memorable and striking answers. And that answer prompted all kinds of sanctimonious sneering from self-righteous liberals unfit to carry Jim Webb’s rucksack.
For the record, I made my joke about Jim Webb killing people before Jim Webb admitted he'd killed people.
John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) October 14, 2015
Most of the Democrats at the debate gave predictably boring answers to Cooper’s question. Lincoln Chafee said he was proud that the coal industry disliked him. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said the National Rifle Association. Bernie Sanders said Wall Street. What about Hillary?
“Probably the Republicans,” Hillary responded, in the apparent belief that nearly half the country is her enemy.
But the answer from former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a highly decorated Marine combat veteran, is what shook everyone awake.
“Which enemy are you most proud of?” Cooper asked. “Senator Webb?”
“I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me,” Webb calmly replied, “but he’s not around right now to talk to.”
Webb was referring to an operation during the Vietnam War that eventually led to Webb being awarded the Navy Cross. After being repeatedly shot at while trying to clear enemy bunkers, Webb deliberately put himself between an enemy grenade and one of his fellow Marines in order to shield that Marine from the grenade blast.
“Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body,” states the citation for Webb’s Navy Cross. “Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker.”
Here’s how the U.S. military officially describes his actions that day:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant James H. Webb, Jr. (MCSN: 0-106180), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as a Platoon Commander with Company D, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb’s platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker. By his courage, aggressive leadership, and selfless devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Webb upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.
Webb was also awarded the Silver Star for his actions during a separate firefight in Vietnam.
“His determination and bold fighting spirit inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in saving the lives of at least two Marines and undoubtedly thwarting the enemy’s plan to launch a major attack against his unit’s night position,” the citation reads. “By his leadership, extraordinary courage, and unflagging devotion to duty at great personal risk, First Lieutenant Webb upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.”
The other Democratic candidates heard the word “enemy” and immediately thought of their political opponents. Webb heard the word and thought of the Vietnamese guerrillas who repeatedly tried to kill him.
It was an illuminating exchange. It was also one that made at least one Washington, D.C.-based reporter very uncomfortable.
Here’s how Politico‘s Ken Vogel reacted to Webb’s answer about his time in combat facing actual enemies as opposed to the political kind:
Regardless of how you feel about his politics, Jim Webb served valiantly in combat. He did his job. He willingly sacrificed his own safety and comfort in order to protect the men who served with him. He is, by all accounts, a legitimate war hero. Webb deserves the gratitude of a nation, not the scorn of a cloistered Beltway scribe.
Given what he must’ve experienced in combat — the physical and mental hardships, both of which I’m sure left scars that will remain forever — Jim Webb can “smirk” wherever and whenever he wants for all I care. He has every right to look back upon his actions and to be proud of them, because he did exactly what his country asked him to do. He did his job, and he did it well.
Jim Webb is a hero. The sneers coming his way today are disgusting. https://t.co/rgafZOtHC5
— Collin Roth (@collinroth) October 14, 2015
By way of comparison, Jim Webb was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Bronze Stars for his conduct in combat during the Vietnam War. He received two Purple Hearts for injuries he sustained while in combat. Ken Vogel writes about campaign finance for Politico.