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May 13, 2006
You Can't Trust Too Far One Who Writes Of 'Purple Stars'

One of the more humorous and yet revealing corrections seen in a major newspaper appeared in yesterday's New York Times, as my friends at Power Line point out:

An article and a picture caption yesterday about the funeral of Sgt. Jose Gomez of Queens, who was killed on April 20 in Iraq, referred incorrectly to the Army representative who comforted his mother. She was a sergeant first class — an enlisted woman, not an officer. The article also misstated the name of a service medal that a general presented to Sergeant Gomez's mother. It is a Purple Heart, not a Purple Star.

This contains two highly embarrassing mistakes for any publication that considers itself authoritative on military issues and news. As John Hinderaker points out, the Purple Heart may well be the most recognized military decoration, and one of our oldest. George Washington created the award as a way of honoring the efforts of enlistees, and the modern medal bears his silhouette. Given all of the discussion of John Kerry's service in Viet Nam and his three Purple Hearts, one would expect at least the editors of the New York Times to know the right name for the medal, if not the reporter herself.

The second mistake was identifying a sergeant as an officer. Up to now, I figured anyone with any understanding of military rank knew that sergeants were enlisted men and women, not commissioned officers. Most reporters used to know military rank and their commission or lack thereof simply by their devices of rank. Apparently, the Paper of Record has so little experience in these matters that their reporters and editors no longer can distinguish rank or medals. That should embarrass everyone at the New York Times and point out to its readers how little understanding the paper has of the American military in general.

Addendum: Okay, how many of us old fogies out there even get the reference to the commercial jingle in the title of this post?

UPDATE: Yes, I know that sergeants are non-commissioned officers, but that has never been the meaning of "officer" in the military. "Officer" refers to commissioned ranks, while the NCO designation refers to the leadership within the enlisted ranks.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 13, 2006 9:33 AM

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