In Praise of Courage: A Review of Netflix’s Medal of Honor

I have received free merchandise in exchange for my review of Netflix’s series, Medal of Honor. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by this company.

We haven’t had cable in 6 years and, most days, I’m OK with that. With the exception of missing a UK game here and there, I am fine with not having to flip through 150 channels of reality shows, which really bear very little resemblance to reality. Remember when the History channel showed documentaries about…history? Now they hunt ghosts, examine conspiracy theories, and pick through people’s storage sheds. And the Travel Channel transported us to festivals in Rome or holidays in China. They also hunt ghosts now. And the Food Network focused on cooking shows instead of cooking contests. My competition cup runneth over.

Our answer was a Roku, which allows us to stream Netflix, PBS, PBSkids, and, yes, even most UK basketball games. We’ve been able to keep up when party conversation turns to Downton Abbey, Sherlock Holmes, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Crown. Blue has discovered a world within Netflix that includes Storybots, King Julien and a slew of Magic School Bus shows. So, when Blue Star Families approached me about a partnership they had formed with Netflix to screen their Docu-series, Medal of Honor, I was all in. Fortunately for me, so were my neighbors. They may or may not have been in it for the Trader Joe’s appetizers (pancake bread, anyone?) and Shiner Bock.

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None of us had ever heard of the show so we had no idea what to expect. We all assumed it was a fictional series akin to Army Wives or SEAL Team. Historically accurate, but crafted in someone’s mind, nonetheless. There is one season with 8 episodes and they are independent of each other. So, the wives let the husbands decide which one we should watch. They chose the Medal of Honor recipient from the war in Afghanistan. For the record, the wives would have chosen someone from World War II or the Korean War. Or…pretty much anyone from any time period except the one we are in right now. The husbands wanted to relate, the wives wanted to distance themselves. Such is life with service members and spouses, I suppose. We poured another glass and settled in.

Episode 2 tells the story of Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha, an Army veteran who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan on October 3rd, 2009. At the mention of COP Keating, several of our neighbors nodded in recognition of the name, but the room soon fell silent as the Battle of Kamdesh unfolded. One of the wives leaned over and whispered, “This is so hard to watch. I hate thinking of what they go through over there.” But that’s true for every military-inspired film or show that prides itself on authenticity. Hollywood can recreate, with alarming accuracy, what it’s like in the thick of war. That’s all made possible by producers willing to hire veterans and those veterans volunteering to share their stories or offer their perspectives. And on the Medal of Honor set, every role that could be filled by a veteran, was, starting at the top with a Marine.

Medal of Honor‘s executive producer, Brandon Birtell, came up with the idea for the show during Marine Corps boot camp in 1996. The Marines’ final challenge, called The Crucible, is a series of obstacles named for Medal of Honor recipients. When I read about that in this Stars and Stripes article, my first thought was, “I can only name one Medal of Honor recipient – Sergeant Dakota Meyer.” And that’s because he grew up 2 hours south of me. But most Americans only recognize his name because he was married to Bristol Palin. What about the other 3,400 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen who have received the honor since its inception in 1861? Shouldn’t we know their names? Shouldn’t we share their stories? Unimaginable bravery should be lauded and passed down to future generations. The award demands respect, but the story behind it deserves to be told. It should be just as familiar as that little medallion that dangles from a sky-blue ribbon.

Our neighbors agreed. The box of Kleenex had made its rounds.

I sent out a little survey after the screening, asking those who attended to share their thoughts on how the show differed from what they were expecting and whether they would recommend it to friends. Overwhelmingly, the response was, “YES!” Everyone appreciated that the story was told well, accurate and engaging. And our friends concurred: we all, Civilians and Military, need to hear these stories. Maybe we won’t sit down and read a 700-page book by Jake Tapper, but we can certainly watch a 55-minute show. I love The Great British Baking Show as much as the next girl, but this is important. This helps us understand what happens on our behalf, what we are asking of our service members when we send them into battle, and what they accomplish against all odds.

Over 3,400 Medal of Honor recipients and Netflix has created an episode about 8 of them. I don’t know how they ever narrowed it down or whether a second season is in the works, but I’m certainly glad they at least started the conversation.

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