Men and women who serve, with or without regard for their own safety are Heroes. I count myself and everyone else in the varied, and massive, army of heroes who stood for this nation as heroes.
Many of my childhood friends had fathers, uncles, older brothers, cousins and just friends who went off to WW II, One of my uncles went, the other was too old, and My father stayed behind, managing the logistics of the B 29 Bomber Project. For a long time, as a small boy, I was unable to see what my "daddy" did in the war.
I knew, through a family involvement with Veterans, hundreds of men who had gone off to war. Some of them were horribly disfigured. They were a company of brothers. Marine, Army, Navy, all the same, they were privy to a great secret. Small boys are fascinated by that secret, trying, always in vain, to understand it. In that pursuit I had an advantage, a big advantage. Still I had to live in that company of brothers to even partly understand our secret.
My dad had a small business. The family lived upstairs from the store. Store is misleading, Dad sold knowledge. There was a snack bar, coffee, and a book store with even more knowledge. Dad was a teacher. He taught accounting and business administration. To his family the lessons were free, but not mandatory.
His students came to us through the Veteran's Administration. He taught well. Many, nearly half his students went on to be Certified Public Accountants, some went into government service, and others into their own small businesses. They started adult life as cogs in the machines that fought World War Two and Korea.
One of those men, Wayne "Rojo" Kempton adopted me as a pseudo nephew. He made me a fan of the Legendary Hudson Hornet. He had a black one. Sleek, fast, and for its time, a champion. He took me fishing with that car, talked to me about those things adults would have pitied him for, but a small boy could find heroic and not see or understand the agonies they laid bare. I should have had nightmares from his stories, instead, I felt privileged knowing his truth. He was unburdened, and and I was taught. Those lessons were invaluable to me later in life, to Mr. Kempton I think they were therapy.
He was not Rojo to me. At my father's insistence, he was "Mr. Kempton." From a child that was respect was a small demand. I'm grown up now, and feel that calling him "Rojo" honors us both. He made nine amphibious landings in the Pacific. His last nearly cost him his legs. It took him out of the war, and into hospitals, and eventually my father's school. For him it was a sad day, it took me decades to understand why. His wounds did not make him sad, leaving his job unfinished, and his comrades is he cause. I would have gone on wondering why getting away from the fire and brimstone made him sad, had I not left brothers in arms at a time of great risk. My brothers never died in war. At least not the close call I left behind. Mr. Kempton's brothers faced hostile fire after he was sidelined. Some of them did not return.
My father was a hero to Mr. Kempton. I understand now why. At the time, aged ten, I probably could not have understood why. If I had, I may have learned to despise what made my father a hero. I sometimes find people who do despise my dad's small part in the great war. I understand their feelings, but disagree with them. He helped build thousands of B 29 bombers.
When I was much older I got to look at the papers he filed during the war, tens of thousands of sheets each with thousands of coded part numbers. Each sheet One B 29. My dad sat in an office on the outskirts of then small town Phoenix, Arizona. Compiling the reports, and filling the orders for parts to build bombers, one of them was eventually named Enola Gay. If I had learned that at age six I would have grown old in the faith that MY DADDY won the war. Learning it at age 17 gave me the chance to put my father's contribution in perspective.
Maturity, even the early roots of maturity provide fuller comprehension of reality. Lacking that maturity creates a fertile garden for political manipulation. Too many of us are lacking the life experience to embrace the real truths of life. The truth that each man loves his family. Every Mother will defend her child. The basic liberties are not just small gifts, but necessities for a full life. Only one life comes to each of us. Living it well, in companionship with the rest of the world is or should be the ultimate goal. Owning a mansion is not the ultimate goal. Owning a life lived well is.
There is a special bond among veterans. It crosses lines no one would ever imagine. Men, meeting a battlefield enemy years after the fighting face that enemy as they would face a long lost brother.
Men and Women serving to preserve, as well as to present the nation to the world. The deserve our respect, and they demand our leadership. Our armed forces are commanded by civilians. They are not our oppressors, but our protectors. For over two centuries, this plan has served us well.