The last scene of the 1954 Korean War film “The Bridges at Toko-Ri,” based on the James Michener novel, shows a carrier commander watching planes take off for another mission and asking, “Where do we get such men?”
The same may be asked of the members of Navy SEAL (sea, air, land) Team 6 who died when the helicopter they were riding was hit by a Taliban-launched rocket-propelled grenade in the Tangi Valley of Wardak province just west of Kabul, Afghanistan.
That they were the best of the best is an understatement. To be a Navy SEAL, you had to be even better than that. President Kennedy formally created the SEALs as an elite force composed of America’s best capable of combat operations in any theater or environment. They’ve performed bravely and admirably, although it is fitting we may never know of their greatest successes.
To be a politician takes more chutzpah than courage. The chattering class, as the mainstream media are called, pondered how the SEALs’ killing of bin Laden last spring might affect President Obama’s re-election chances in 2012. So did administration officials, as the leaks and chest-thumping began immediately. After all, it happened on Obama’s watch, we were told.
SEAL missions depend on courage, skill, daring — and secrecy. Initially, when the president announced that “a small team of Americans” had killed Osama bin Laden, he did not identify it was the SEALs.
At a Pentagon briefing on May 2, a defense official was asked if it was a Navy SEAL team that found and killed the world’s most wanted man. The terse response was: “Not going to comment on units or numbers.”
The next day, Vice President Joe Biden spoke at Washington’s Ritz Carlton Hotel at a dinner event to mark the 50th anniversary of the Atlantic Council. “Let me briefly acknowledge tonight’s distinguished honorees,” he said. “Adm. James Stavridis is the real deal. He can tell you more about and understands the incredible, the phenomenal, the just almost unbelievable capacity of his Navy SEALs and what they did last Sunday.”
The RPG that felled the SEALs may have been a random act of war. The Taliban could have just gotten lucky. Or they could have been plotting and waiting for revenge, looking for helicopters that might be carrying more SEALs on another mission, a big bull’s-eye painted on their backs by a vice president who forgot that loose lips sink ships — and can get Navy SEALs killed.