When I was a kid, everyone looked up to President Eisenhower with respect for his wartime service. He was a genuine hero. Along with him were a veritable host of other general officers, some alive, some dead who were also genuine heroes. I read all about the doings of Gen. Frank Everest (one of the 1950s, Fastest Men Alive), Gen. Chuck Yeager, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle (now he had some big ones), and the list goes on and on.
I remember my father and his friends standing up suddenly from their coffees at the Rexall drug counter one Saturday morning. In walked a thin old man whose face looked like any other weathered West Texas rancher. The stranger was wearing an old leather jacket with a bunch of patches and scruffy boots. Gen. Tex Hill (David Lee “Tex” Hill – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) had come to visit an acquaintance in town. I saw nothing but respect shining in the eyes of those men. What’s more, that respect seemed to go both ways. Sure Tex was a really big shot and some of dad’s friends had been WWII privates, but the great man spoke with each and shook their hands. I may even have had my crew cut rubbed as I stood sheepishly at dad’s side, wondering about this stranger suddenly in our midst.
My Boy Scout troop was led by a WWII Colonel. I shot on a rifle team led by another WWII Colonel. I was blessed to be raised at a time when there were an abundance of genuine heroes, both local and national. When the Cold War suddenly became hot in the 1960s, I could see confidence in these steady men and knew that not only that they would not run, I understood they knew how to take care of war’s deadly business. Those men held my trust and admiration. They were my heroes. I wanted to grow up and be just like dad and his friends.
My dad and his brothers along with mom’s brothers were all veterans. From what little I overheard, my father and one of his brothers did some really dangerous things in occupied France. My soft spoken mom worked for Boeing in Wichita helping make B24 and B17s flown by brave men who helped put the final end to WWII. The people in my young life were all bigger than life. I wanted to grow up and be just like them.
Something different happened in Korea. One of dad’s youngest brothers lost fingers and toes at a place called Frozen Chosin and his attitude was slightly different than that of the older siblings. Then came my generation’s war, Viet Nam. Sure we all knew who Gen. Westmoreland was, but his name didn’t carry the same respect of those WWII generals. Neither did President Johnson.
Somehow being a combat veteran was no longer admired – and the country changed.
Every generation needs heroes. My generation revered the WWII greats. Whom does the millennial generation revere? Madonna, movie actors, I don’t even know. Somehow this country has lost touch with its heroes. They are still here, but now real heroes have to compete with Hollywood fakes – and with video games.
I have seen the stars on the Memorial Wall at CIA headquarters and read from the associated Book of Honor. I have read the names inscribed in the FBI Hall of Honor at Quantico. I have read many of the citations associated with recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some of you might even be alive today because of the unsung sacrifice of that band of brothers. Most of you I fear, cannot name even one of those many, those brave souls who so loved his country and brother – and paid the ultimate sacrifice for that devotion.
This generation has genuine heroes but I can’t think of one extant national politician who qualifies. I think it would behoove each of us with children to find genuine heroes. Men and women who live or have lived their lives in a way that is both glorious and honorable and who represent all that is good in our culture.
I took what is likely a final trip to my hometown a few years ago. It was to attend the funeral of a man whom in my youth was a small town merchant. Royce Jones ran the local Western Auto where all of us boys would go to look at those neat chrome Western Flyer bicycles. I’m sure my parents knew, but I didn’t. As a lad, I didn’t have a clue who Royce really was. You see, Royce Jones flew B17s in Europe during WWII. Among his honors was the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was a real hero and worthy of adoration. Yet, I grew up in that small dusty West Texas town, never knowing who was actually running the local Western Auto.
Folks, we need to ferret out those real life heroes hiding silently in the crowds. Your children need to know them and about them. Heroes inspire greatness in each of us, their lives shining examples of what we might aspire to do or to become.
In all humbleness and with great debt,