Friday, March 11, 2011

It's not every day you meet a hero.

One of my customers greeted me today wearing a Purple Heart, Combat Wounded hat today.  He was an older gentleman, and I assumed Vietnam or possibly Korea. 

As he watched me work he did what a lot of older gentlemen do to pass the time and told me a little about himself.  He'd retired from the Army, worked as a school teacher, then a driver, and then in maintenance at a school.  He'd also done some work as an electrician for a short time after retiring from the Army.

As I was finished up some work in his house he pointed out a framed newspaper clipping in passing and said, "A little write up they did about me."  When I had a moment I took the time to read it.  He had served in Vietnam.  It talked about how as a Sergeant at 26 (my age now) he felt kind of like a father to the 18 and 19 year old soldiers under him just coming into country.  Yadda yadda blah blah. And then I got to the third paragraph and feeling a bit stunned found myself looking over at him sitting in his chair.

"You earned a Silver Star and a Bronze Star?"

"Yeah," he said, nodding toward the wall behind him, "they're over there."

I honestly was at a loss for words.  I think I stammered something about that being very impressive.

He went on to tell me that during the Tet Offensive he and seven other men were grouped together when a thrown grenade landed amongst them.  He grabbed the grenade and tossed it back at the VC who'd thrown it at them and got shot twice for his trouble. 

He even showed me the mangled bullets they'd pulled out of him.  He keeps them in a pill bottle in the display case holding his medals. 

I'm 26.  At my age this man picked up a live grenade and threw it back at the enemy, saving the lives of seven other men, and got shot twice in the doing.  He was told in a hospital in Japan he wouldn't walk for over a year.  He was on his feet walking out of a hospital five and a half months later.  I can't even imagine. 

As a history nerd I've read about this kind of thing plenty of times, but this is the first time I've ever met someone, that I know of, that has done those kinds of things.  I'm at a loss to describe how that makes me feel.  Impressed.  Awed.  A little embarrassed that I've never served myself.  And thankful.  Thankful that I can say I shook the hand of a hero. 

They're really out there, walking among us.

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