[I have brought this back on Veteran Day and Memorial Day Holidays in the years since it was first published. I have thought of it many times, especially in recent months as a member of our own family ventures in and out of combat zones as a US Marine]
Last evening he reacted with amazement. "You gotta be kidding me!" I had just mentioned I was writing about him. I thought for a moment he might object. As it is, I hope he forgives me for the details I may have gotten wrong.
It was one of several encounters I had happened upon with this impressive, self-deprecating man. I often stop by the local library, and that's where we kept bumping into each other. The first time, he was trying to recover a lost file on a library computer. I tried to help him, unsuccessfully as it turned out. We talked about the coming election. He was for McCain, I for Obama.
Then he told me a little of himself. He is a war hero from the Vietnam era. That's my description not his. He seems hesitant as he talks about it, and he talks about it sparingly. "I just went a little crazy," he says. His "craziness" saved others who were in mortal danger, pinned down and taking enemy fire. He was later awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. That medal is awarded for any of several acts, but when earned for bravery in combat, it is the fourth highest possible military citation given by the U.S. Armed Forces.
For years, modesty and uncertainty of how it might be regarded prompted him to keep the award stored out of view. He would not expose this symbol to derision. It was his father who changed his mind. His dad had served in the Air Force in World War Two, flying over the Empire of Japan with General Curtis Lemay. He confessed to his son that he felt just a little envious. The younger veteran was incredulous and so his father explained, it was that hidden Bronze Star. The son objected. The old man was a hero many times over. He pointed to the many ribbons, medals, and awards the elder hero had on his own wall. "But I never earned a Bronze Star," the father stated simply.
They are everywhere, these heroes who have our lasting thanks and admiration, earned in far off lands. They are lucky to have made it back, and we are blessed in having them back. A choir director, members at church, workmates, and casual acquaintances are among them. There are many more unknowingly met in bank lines and pharmacies, the routine encounters that are part of everyday life. I have a letter from a onetime coworker, recently assigned to Afghanistan. He has my prayers until the moment he returns.
My friend in the library had a special relationship with his dad. They each shared an admiration of the other, quiet and well deserved. The last act of that regard came as the son gazed into an open casket. He placed next to his father the Bronze Star that had been awarded for an act of desperation decades ago in a land far away.
The father had chosen his son well.
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