Quick, what comes to your mind when you think of a hero? Is it a 6’4”, 250 lb., heavily muscled man, with perfect shiny white teeth and a cleft chin? Maybe you thought of a super hero, like Superman, or Batman, or Thor. Maybe you thought of a burly fireman, running into a burning building to save someone. My apologies to the women out there, but I usually thought of a man like the ones mentioned above when I thought of a hero.
Now picture this: a 5’5” 150 lb., wiry man. You’re probably not thinking hero, right? How about if I told you that this man was part of a gunnery team in World War II that was comprised of three huge cannons, who were told that they had to keep firing no matter what happened? How about if I told you that two of those guns took direct hits and were out of commission, and that this man was part of the one gun left? Further, this gun kept firing even though they were also under heavy enemy fire and because of that, the objective of that battle was met. What are you thinking now?
The United States Army thought this man and his fellow soldiers were heroes, because they awarded him the Silver Star. According to Wikipedia, “The Silver Star is the third-highest combat military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the United States armed forces for valor in the face of the enemy.” Valor; now that is a great word. One definition of the word is “boldness or determination in facing great damage, especially in battle; heroic courage; bravery.” It also says, “The Silver Star may be awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the armed forces, distinguishes himself or herself by extraordinary heroism involving one of the following actions…” and it lists three actions. The point is they don’t just give these to anybody.
The amazing part of all this is that the unlikely hero was my Dad. I don’t think I even knew this about him until after he died. It just wasn’t something he talked about. Growing up, I knew he was in World War II. I saw him march in parades with the VFW and he always stood when the flag went by if he wasn’t in the parade. I also knew that he sang the words to the national anthem when it was played. I always thought of him as a patriotic man, but I didn’t know that he was awarded a Silver Star. It kind of blew my mind when I found out about this.
The final piece to this mini puzzle was that Dad died on the Fourth of July. To me, it was fitting that such a patriotic man, and a war hero, would die on that day. So the Fourth of July is a bittersweet day for me and my family. I appreciate the history, and the fight for independence and freedom, but I also pause to remember that it was that day that my father was taken from this earth.
Dad wasn’t a 6”4”, heavily muscled man, with perfect shiny white teeth and a cleft chin. He wasn’t the Hollywood version of a hero. He was just an ordinary guy who “distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism.” For him, and a lot of other guys like him, I say, “Happy Fourth of July.”