Amid All the Celebrity Deaths, A Reality Check

-By Frank Salvato

Some have labeled the summer of 2009, the Summer of the Celebrity Death Watch, and one could successfully argue the point. Ed McMahon, Karl Malden, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays, David Carradine, Koko Taylor, Fred Travalena and, most notably, Michael Jackson – to name but a few off the top of my head – have all passed away over the course of June and July. While the mortality of a generation is always catalyst for priority re-evaluation and reflection, it is the caliber of “the catalyst” – those we have elevated to iconic status – that exposes just how superficial our American culture has become.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the successes and contributions, the talents and the prowess those who have passed over the last month and a half have shared with the world. As someone who was part of the entertainment industry in my youth, I certainly appreciate the talents of pitchmen, actors and musicians passed. And even though a few of those who are now celebrated had colorful and sometimes disturbing personal lives or political views that differed from mine, I am able to divorce the ugly flaws of man and political ideology (within reason) to appreciate the talents they shared with the world.

But there is an enormous difference between sharing a talent and making a sacrifice, especially when that sacrifice comes in the service of our country and in the advancement of liberty and freedom around the world. It is because of this that I can empathize with families of fallen soldiers who have expressed their dismay with the over-abundance of adulation heaped upon the privileged of the entertainment world, especially when that adulation mutes or silences the heralding of the passing of someone who really should be elevated to iconic stature. A perfect example of this comes to us in the passing of Marine Corps Colonel Kenneth L. Reusser.

As I and my friend Mike mulled the issues of the day and the genesis of our nation’s independence over the July 4th holiday, he pulled out a folded piece of newspaper – an obituary – and handed it to me. “Everyone is talking about Michael Jackson and his contributions to our culture. How about this guy? You haven’t heard a word about him and he was a true American hero,” Mike said as he handed me the clipping. It read:

“Decorated Marine Pilot Shot Down Three Times.

“Associated Press, Clackamas, Ore. – Retired Marine Corps Col. Kenneth L. Reusser, a highly decorated Marine aviator who was shot down in three wars, has died at age 89.

“Mr. Reusser, who died June 20 and was buried Friday, flew 253 combat missions in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and was shot down in all three, five times in all.

“His 59 medals included two Navy Crosses, four Purple Hearts and two Legions of Merit.

“In 1945, while based in Okinawa, he stripped down his F4U-4 Corsair fighter and intercepted a Japanese observation plane at a high altitude. When his guns froze, he flew his fighter into the observation plane, hacking off its tail with his propeller.

“In 1950 in Korea, he led an attack on a North Korean tank-repair facility at Inchon, then destroyed an oil tanker, almost blowing himself out of the sky.

“In Vietnam he flew helicopters and was leading a rescue mission when his Huey was shot down. He needed skin grafts over 35 percent of his badly burned body.”

I’ll give you a minute to silently collect your thoughts and perhaps say thank you to this warrior hero; this true American patriot.

Imagine the raw courage needed to resign yourself to an almost certain death in deciding to ram your fighter plane – in midair – into an enemy plane, simply to keep the enemy pilot from reporting allied positions back to the enemy command.

Imagine the conviction needed to bring your aircraft to within literally feet of destruction in an attack on an enemy base during a pivotal battle, a move that would almost certainly mean you would die as your plane was blown out of the sky over enemy territory.

Imagine the dedication needed to return to battle after having accomplished both of these heroic acts – the first almost 30 years earlier – in an effort to rescue injured and fallen brothers in arms because your code of honor demands that you leave no brother behind.

My fellow Americans, why aren’t we celebrating the life of this true American hero? Why are we more concerned, more enamored, why are we more impressed with the circumstances surrounding the passing of the glitterati than with a man who literally provided the freedom under which these celebrities were able to hone their crafts so as to become rich and famous? Why have we placed more importance in the passing of a dancer, a singer, an actor or a pitchman than on the blood sacrifices of our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our fathers and mothers, those who gave their lives – many willingly – for our freedom, for our liberty, so that we would be able to live our lives free from fear and oppression?

My organization,, starts in explaining our mission by saying, “It is difficult to value something when its’ worth is unknown.” I fear that our citizenry has lost the ability to understand the worth of freedom and liberty. I fear our society has embraced a gross apathy toward maintaining a proper understanding of the unique philosophy of Americanism. I fear that our citizenry has become so affected by political correctness and moral relativism, so accustomed to feeding from the public trough and so incredibly narcissistic that our very future hangs in the balance. I fear that Col. Reusser and every other American patriot who died in the defense of liberty and freedom may have died in vain.

Is there hope for our country? I suppose it depends on the answer to this question:

Between Marine Colonel Kenneth L. Reusser and Michael Jackson, “who’s bad?”

Frank Salvato is the managing editor for The New Media Journal . He serves at the Executive Director of the Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan, 501(C)(3) research and education initiative. His pieces are regularly featured in over 100 publications both nationally and internationally. He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, and is a regular guest on The Right Balance with Greg Allen on the Accent Radio Network, as well as an occasional guest on numerous radio shows coast to coast. He recently partnered in producing the first-ever symposium on the threat of radical Islamist terrorism in Washington, DC. His pieces have been recognized by the House International Relations Committee and the Japan Center for Conflict. He can be contacted at

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