I met a hero the other day. It was a cold, rainy Monday and I was walking across the parking lot to the grocery store. He was coming toward me, all five foot, six, 150 pounds of him. He was stooped over and walked slowly. On his hat was a patch that said he had won the Purple Heart.
As I drew nearer, I saw the bumper sticker on his pick-up truck, “Semper Fi.” As he turned his back to me to load his groceries I saw the patch on the back of his jacket. It read, “The Chosen Few.” The lump appeared in my throat and my eyes welled with tears. Here was one of those who fought in sub-zero weather for 17 days at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.
I said, “Excuse me,” and put out my hand. I shook his and said, “Thank you for your service. You are my hero.” He stood just a bit taller and said, “The heroes are those who didn’t come back.” I was taken by his humility and he went on.
“Thirty-seven hundred of us went in and we faced sixty-thousand Chinese. Only three-hundred-ninety-one of us came out.” The rain kept coming down and my eyes overflowed with tears.
“We ate garbage near the end, took ammo and other things from the dead so we could keep on. We fought with rifles, bayonets, rocks, and our bare hands.” The rain kept coming and he was growing taller.
“I lost too many friends, young kids, like those across the street at the high school. It was the longest seventeen days of my life.” The rain kept coming, I kept listening, and he was a giant now.
The brief conversation came to an end and once again, I said, “Thank you. You are my hero.”
He smiled and started to speak, “The ones who didn’t…” I cut him off, “Sir, you are a hero because you were there and because you claimed not to be a hero.” He smiled and I said, “God bless you!”
The tears come down my face now as I think of him and all of those from Lexington and Concord to Iwo Jima, from Gettysburg to Normandy, from The Argonne Woods, to Khe Sanh, from Anzio to Afghanistan who opposed evil and said, “This is as far as you go and no farther.”
One day they were throwing baseballs across the diamond, the next day they were fighting for freedom. One day they were studying chemistry, the next day they were studying a battle plan. One day they were asking their sweethearts to the prom, the next day they were fighting for seventeen days in sub-zero weather.
The next time some stuffed shirt starts apologizing for this country remind him of the Chosen Few and all the people who are free because millions of American boys and girls gave their last full measure of devotion in the cause of liberty.
On May 28, remember it’s not about the day off work, it’s not about the picnics, it’s not about ballgames, it’s about ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things when the world needed them. God bless them all!
I met a hero the other day.