Silver Dolphins

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

How can an insignia that means so much to so many of us be debased by the Naval establishment by handing it out wholesale as a midshipman's summer cruise souvenir? When you didn't work hard for something, it has no worth. We have devalued most decorations to the point that a large part of what you see above the pockets of American service personnel means little or nothing. The men and women who wear them know in their hearts that all this meaningless gedunk has the same value as the decorative icing on a wedding cake… It is harder to earn Scout merit badges than it is to pick up some of the ribbons of today.

The men and women of this generation have known no other system and have no point of reference… They have no way of knowing it was not always that way. They have no way of knowing how valued and respected our Silver Dolphins were… Why? Because the men of the Navy knew how difficult it was to get them. If nothing else, the entire world was aware of the magnificent record and willing sacrifice of our World War II submarine force.

We don't like to talk about the national disgrace that attended our intervention in Southeast Asia… We have made many attempts to cast our defeat in that theater in some kind of bullshit rationale. There was no surrender… No American handed over his/her sidearm and watched our flag hauled down. We got our ass kicked by a little country with no navy… An air force that was an international joke… And very little technology. I cannot tell you why, but anyone who is honest can recognize an ass kicking. I did not serve in Viet Nam. When I went to the boats, it was called French Indochina. I want to make it clear, I do not denigrate the service of anyone who served in Southeast Asia… As I said, I wasn't there and there is nothing worse than a sonuvabitch who wasn't there portraying themselves as an expert on something that they have no first-hand experience in.

Americans hate a loser… Especially a loser who cloaks his failure in excuses. We admire a man who puts up a good fight, gets whipped, admits his failure, and moves on. That was the way it was in my generation. In Southeast Asia, the entire team saw it was being thrashed and left the field with ten minutes left in the fourth quarter… And took the ball with them. I think the kids today call that the 'tiny heart syndrome'. We tried to pack our bags and steal away in the night… It didn't work and proud America had to sit and watch the evening news show us the most embarrassing goat screw of all time. The men who master-minded that sorry epic should wander the earth wearing paper bags.

No one thought a whole helluva lot of military service in the early '70s… It was a joke… Dope smoking was rampant… Neo-Nazi elements flourished in our so-called elite forces. Arrogance abounded… The 'My SEALS are tougher than your Green Berets' bullshit. Glory belongs to those who deserve it. It is earned by deeds. Interservice rivalry - not good. My rants… Even if mostly tongue-in-cheek… My ripping of the nuke force - not good. Born of exclusion that was a corrosive influence. My mindless bullshit perpetuates the same stupidity I rail against. RamJet eloquently pointed that out to me… He was right. That is what smoke boat shipmates do for each other… They don't sugar coat it. They say you are simply full of shit and you listen. Its called reciprocal respect… It used to come with Silver Dolphins.

To boost recruiting, the services adopted the 'everybody gets a badge' policy. They invented the awards package practice… Multiple ribbons for the same thing. Examples… After Grenada, I was sitting in my office in the pentagon and looked out the window at a vast uniformed formation in the center court. Officers were walking down the rows shaking hands and handing each man a brown envelope… Containing the Grenada invasion decoration package. These guys had been thousands of miles from the action, in the comfort of the pentagon… Their long-range support earned multiple ribbons. Anyone involved in the one hundred-hour war in the gulf got a minimum of three medals. The three idiots recently captured in the Balkans and whom Jesse Jackson released were a slap in the face… These three clowns got six medals. For what? Why should getting captured, no matter how unfortunate, rate six gahdam medals?

Kids today waltz around with rows of ribbons. Our Navy has multiplied its badge grab bag to the point it makes you lose your lunch. Bigger equals better… Take a look at the SEAL badge… Looks like the hood ornament off an Italian roadster… Takes three pins to hold it on a uniform. The Air Force hands out little silver badges that look a lot like parachute wings… You get them for doing accurate paperwork!

The fine men and women of our armed forces are being seduced by decoration inflation. Look at the old films of returning World War II GIs… A couple of rows of ribbons earned dearly. Men like Old Gringo wore Dolphin patches on their sleeves. Old Gringo's cloth Dolphins made the Silver Dolphins we worked like hell to get, mean something. We wanted to be worthy of the legacy men like Old Gringo had handed us.

It would be a sin to hand out Silver Dolphins like Cracker Jack prizes… To give them away as a summer memory. Decisions like that come from little men who have no idea what they mean to you and me, and we are powerless to do a gahdam thing about it. That hurts.

We used to laugh at Latin American Naval officers. They had meaningless ribbons, medals, badges, sashes, gold braid and big hats with a load of crap embroidered all over their visors. They looked like comic opera characters. Now, our ranking officers, men who never slugged it out toe-to-toe with another world power, wear more meaningless crap than a South American dictator.

Ribbons don't make the man. Training, pride and an established record, make the man. Valor comes through reputation. Any man who crawled the volcanic sand beaches at Iwo Jima is a hero. He doesn't need a rhinestone-studded badge to tell him so. All we have to know is, he was there.

They put a 'V' for valor on silver and bronze stars to tell you they were combat decorations. What other kind of bronze and silver stars are there? In our day, those medals told us the man wearing them had been shot at for a living. More inflationary bullshit.

If by some Tooth Fairy induced miracle I woke up as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs tomorrow, I would have every unit commander pass around a galvanized bucket and tell the troops to toss in any worthless post Viet Nam badge, medal or ribbon not earned under fire… And I would make U.S. military insignia mean something once more. Next, I would phone the Postmaster General and tell him I wanted to see the design for the Hundredth Anniversary of the Submarine Force stamp on my desk by the end of the week. I would tell him the day Donald Duck, Snoopy, Mickey Mouse, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe were worthier of postal recognition than boat sailors, was the day we had lost all ability to recognize national contribution.

None of this applies to the U. S. Marine Corps. The Marines, God bless 'em, have done their damnedest to resist the seduction of 'Something for nothing' awards. Being a U. S. Marine is all one has to be… We all know their unequalled record… A history written in heroic deeds wherever they have gone.

Social experiment, sensitivity concern, hand out funding and the erosion of a previously proud awards system have victimized this generation of military men and women. Poor bastards… We owe them better.