I have known them. I have lived among them. I have walked in their footsteps and learned from them. And they are not always who you think they are; they are the quiet men and women who did the deeds you couldn't.
I have a lot of heroes in my life. They will probably never know it. But they stand in a higher place than I will ever achieve. They are men and women I aspired to be like yet never met the challenge. I did my best, though.
It never really mattered; party affiliation Democrat or Republican. When you sat in a mud slick trench in frozen indifference with bombs dropping on you for weeks on end, pounding you until your ears bled. What did it matter except to survive? Pinned in a trench in France, frozen water and dead comrades all around him, my uncle lay, for a week or more. Ed didn't quit. He prayed a lot but held fast. He was removed from battle by those that relieved him, but he didn't quit. His feet are ruined now from the cold they endured and he is deaf from the pounding artillery. He gave all he was asked from his country and I honor him with gratitude. He is my hero.
His bother, Reid, gave his share as well. I don't know much about his battles but I am sure he met them well. He is my hero simply through his generosity of spirit. He was a good fellow and I miss him.
Their brother Court fought the quiet war of national security in Texas and Colorado. He served just as hard as the ones on the front lines to defend our interests. I love him in a special way because he always had time for me. He would wait for me when climbing the steep hills and always give me the first shot at a squirrel. I will always miss him. He was my buddy.
My uncle Dick, who jumped in with the 101st on D-day, how can you top that? He was part of the first airborne assault in history. He was there! As part of the spearhead, he saw much of the bloodiest fighting. An artist before the war, I think he was deeply affected by it. I know he was, because I saw the sadness in his face. His candid stories took away all illusions of glory I had about battle. He told it like it was. He put it in its place. It was all about killing. "One day, we disabled a tank. Three men jumped out and we called for them to stop. They ran and we killed all three." War is never about glory, it is only about killing. He froze in the trenches at the Battle of the Bulge when General McAffee uttered, "Nuts" to the Germans. He held fast. I think of him daily and his influence on my manhood. He is my reality check.
And then, there is the man I knew best but never knew at all; my father. He was a hard one to figure out. As I age, I understand him more and hear the quiet lessons he taught. He was hard; on me and my mother both. But he was hard on himself as well I think. The Army made him that way. I heard tales from him that are too strange to be lies and could only be told by someone there. I remember hearing him up in the middle of the night in the 60's with nightmares from the Korean War. I remember when Kennedy was shot and my father was in Korea at the time and he was gonna make sure it was all ok. I trusted in him to make it all alright. And he did. Him and all 200,000 other soldiers, but I only knew my dad was gonna make it happen. I was safe, you see?
And then there is Grace. She made the shells that protected her brothers, and later my brother. She worked in the Army Depot across the river in Indiana. It was a most dangerous job, but she did it just the same for her country. Fear didn't matter when her brothers were on the line. She climbed trees with me and tended to me when my mother couldn't. She can never replace my mom but she runs a close second. I will always count her as a hero in my life.
Ray Long and Andrew Combs, those fellas are heroes in their own right. Immaculate outdoorsmen and hunters extraordinaire, I was honored by their presence in my younger life. They are fellows to know for sure. They both served their country for 20 years each, fought in Vietnam, and lived in Alaska. They have been there and done it. I am proud to know them both.
I guess my biggest hero of all is my big brother. He is the MAN. I don't know him that well, but I love the stories about him. He is a legend to me. I can never meet that, but that's ok, because he's my brother. I'm a good rifle shot, but he is the best. I was an adequate soldier, but he was better. I recall the day he went to Vietnam. It was Christmas time and my father was taking pictures. I couldn't stop crying for fear my brother would be hurt over there. My dad was mad but what the hell. It was my brother. When he learns to write, I guess I'm done. Oh well, it's ok, he's my brother.
Warriors come and warriors go. I stand a paltry witness to those who walked before me, but I try to catch up.