What is a hero? There are several definitions but today, one rises to the top of the list.
In June of 1944, my grandfather stormed the beaches of Normandy as part of the Allied invasion force on D-day. He survived that campaign, lived to fight six months later in the forest around Bastogne, where he received wounds in combat and awarded this purple heart and sent home.
To me, my grandfather and all those who fought in World War II, and all of our nation’s wars, are heroes. They sacrificed to keep us free.
But if you were to ask my grandfather (who died 25 years ago) or any veteran if they considered themselves heroes, you would get a very different answer.
Veteran Ed Pepping of Whittier, California, said, “I don’t consider myself a hero. It was just a job. Sometimes today I get treated as a hero, but I always try to turn it around and talk about the greatness of the guys who served. I’m just me. The people who are heroes are the ones who gave their lives for our freedom.” [We Who Are Alive and Remain: Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers, Marcus Brotherton, page 224.]
Veteran Roy Gates of Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, said, “Heroes? I think they’re all dead. These guys who saw a lot of combat, I really respect, but I think they’d agree with that statement—the real heroes are no longer with us.” [ibid, page 226]
Veteran Buck Taylor, of Stuart, Florida, said, “What does it mean to be a hero? I don’t know how to answer that. Were my actions heroic in the war? I’ll say this: all the heroes are the ones buried over there—the men who never came back.” [ibid, page 229]
Memorial Day is a day to remember heroes. But what makes their deaths heroic? Veteran Earl McClung of Pueblo West, Colorado, said, “You figure a hero is someone who does above and beyond the call of duty, and when you give your life that’s as above and beyond as you can get.” [ibid, page 225]
When you die for someone else, you are considered – according to these veterans – a hero.
And the one who defined this perfectly was Jesus Christ – who went above and beyond the call of duty of any man and god to save all of us from our sins and eternal death. His death for you and me is the very basis of our lives. In this country, we are free to live our lives to worship Christ for this.
And that freedom was won and continues to be paid for by the heroes we remember this Memorial Day.
No, Freedom Isn’t Free
©Copyright 1981 by Kelly Strong, Commander, United States Coast Guard
I watched the flag pass by one day.
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it
And then he stood at ease.
I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud,
With hair cut square and eyes alert
He'd stand out in any crowd.
I thought how many men like him
Had fallen through the years.
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers' graves?
No, freedom isn't free.
I heard the sound of taps one night,
When everything was still
I listened to the bugler play
And felt a sudden chill.
I wondered just how many times
That taps had meant "Amen,"
When a flag had draped a coffin
Of a brother or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons and husbands
With interrupted lives.
I thought about a graveyard
At the bottom of the sea
Of unmarked graves in Arlington.
No, freedom isn't free.