“Operation Just Reward”: A Tale for the Ages

Something is brewing in Washington that fits almost eerily with the invigorating cultural moment we’ve found ourselves in once again thanks to Tom Cruise and the creators of the “Top Gun” movie franchise.

As we drive irresponsibly home from the movie theaters, calculating whether or not we’re too old to join the Navy and refocus on the folklore that has always surrounded our nation’s most elite military airmen, a big bipartisan thing is shaping up in Congress (believe it or not!). Something that will hopefully culminate in an even bigger thing that will happen very soon at a ceremony at the White House.

Amid a determined campaign by retired military officers of all persuasions, dubbed “Operation Just Reward,” which has had its ups and downs mostly due to bureaucratic nonsense, Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican of California , took the reins and built an impressive bipartisan coalition. from fellow lawmakers, and introduced HR 5909 to expedite efforts to authorize the president to give one of the world’s greatest combat pilots, 97-year-old retired Captain E. Royce Williams, , just in the form of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The story of Captain Williams’ real-life heroism and why it took so long to earn him the United States government’s highest and most prestigious military decoration could fit perfectly into the “Top Gun,” if Mr. Cruise and company feel the need to try again. Its story is long, intense, and perhaps more fantastical than even the best Hollywood screenwriters could conjure up.

By the way, the very first commander of the Navy’s Advanced Fighter Tactics program called TOPGUN, retired Rear Admiral Roger Box, simply referred to him in an email exchange as a “fighter pilot most remarkable alive”. From what I can tell, this sentiment seems to be widely shared in most affected neighborhoods.

Here’s the gist: 70 years ago, on November 18, one of the greatest and certainly the hardest-won triumphs in military aviation history took place in international waters off the coast of Korea. . That day, Williams, 27, suddenly found himself alone in the sky in his F9F-5 Panther, staring at seven superior Russian MiG-15s that had come to eat his lunch and continue to sink his nearby aircraft carrier, the USS. Oriskany.

By any lucid calculation, lunch is exactly what should have happened then. Except no. What ensued was a fierce 35-minute fight (note most only last a few seconds and in exceptional cases lasted up to five minutes) that ended with Williams back in safely on the deck of the now safe Oriskany after a risky landing, 263 bullet holes and a 37mm shell gash in her crippled Panther.

It didn’t end so well for at least six of the seven MiGs that set out to dispatch the overrun American, as only one returned to base.

Although one of the most extraordinary feats in military aviation history just happened, there was no celebration or dramatic telling from Captain Williams to his shipmates. Quite the contrary. A frank conversation and a handshake with his admiral was supposed to be the last time the mission would be brought up.

It turns out that the circumstances and details surrounding the dogfight, which ended so badly for the Soviets, contained a level of sensitivity that required immediate classification as top secret. No one outside of a very small group of individuals had a whiff of it for over 50 years until the Soviet Union fell and it came out of their records. One of those who knew, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was then President-elect of the United States. Eisenhower summoned Captain Williams for a tour and a drink during a dramatic pre-inaugural briefing visit to Seoul because he wanted to meet the young airman. Yet even in this rarefied setting, the mission was not discussed.

When the US government finally declassified everything in December 2017, no one was more surprised than Captain Williams’ wife and brother, another elite military aviator with whom he shared a long-standing friendly pilot rivalry.

Captain Williams had gone half a century without breaking his promise to his admiral. Half a century of keeping something secret that could bring him immediate fame, fortune, and a place among the greatest aviators in history. While 146 of his fellow Korean War heroes were honored and celebrated with well-deserved Medals of Honor, he settled for his Silver Star, knowing full well that an upgrade was out of the question for him. national security reasons.

But as Mr. Issa says, “America owes Williams a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, and we won’t stop fighting until he receives at least the proper recognition that he does. he did not seek but which he amply deserves”.

Thanks to the commendable efforts of Mr. Issa to force the issue (remember, Captain Williams is 97 and we don’t have all the time in the world here) and thanks to the longstanding determination of his comrades in the “Operation Just Reward” plus endorsements from more than 100 retired general officers and admirals, the American Legion, Distinguished Flying Cross Society, Special Operations Association of America and others, the most military honors upgrade deserved and the latest of all time could well be imminent.

Let’s make it so. America could use a feel-good moment, and if anyone deserves a Hollywood ending, it’s Captain E. Royce Williams. Let’s challenge Congress to meet immediately after the July 4 recess returns and pass HR 5909 and join President Biden in the East Room post rush so we can all see the Commander-in-Chief drape the medal on his shoulders, together, mission accomplished at last.

• Christian Josi is a seasoned political operative, writer and media consultant. He is the former executive director of the American Conservative Union and CPAC, and is currently the managing director of C. Josi and Company, a Virginia Beach-based public affairs and media consulting firm.

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