This is a long post, but please, it is well worth the read. Most of what I have posted here is from the hearts of those who call our military family.
What is a hero? The dictionary calls a hero:
1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
These definitions explain what a hero is, but not who they really are.
In recent years there have been many heroes born in the fires of this War on Terror. They are people who do not seek the spotlight, they do their job because it is simply what they do. If you were to call them heroes, they would deny it. They are strong yet humble, wanting only to defend their families, their brothers-in-arms and their country.
We, those who are not a part of the military family, know a hero when we see one or read about one. They are amazing individuals, such as Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor or Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta or SGT Leigh Ann Hester or Major Ryan L. Worthan or Special Forces Soldier Scott Dyer or this whole crowd, yet the families of our men and women in uniform know a deep and abiding pride and love for them that is not often seen beyond the military family. Here is a little glimpse of what these families feel for their heroes. And do not doubt that they are heroes…
This is from Jarhead Dad:
I remember like it was yesterday when our young Marine came marching out on the parade deck of Parris Island sporting a brand new chevron proclaiming him a PFC in the United States Marine Corps! A merit stripe earned in the sand fleas and swamps of South Carolina. God how proud I was. I bet I stood a full two inches taller. His Mom squeezing my hand harder as his Training Battalion passed the stands. The tears of pride I enjoyed wiping from her cheeks. The virality, the strength, a man where a boy should stand. It was all there.
From that day forward our home became a staging area of sorts for the next four years and even now. Young Marines we met on that very same Parade Deck stopping in on their way one place or another knowing they would get a home cooked meal and lodging with others of their kind. After SOI they came in bunches, full of themselves, cocky, with the innate ability to use the F word as a noun, adjective, verb, adverb. All in the same sentence! Vulgar? Not for a minute. These are young men that enlisted in a time their country is at war, knowing full well what they were facing and where they were headed. They are young men “with the bark” on as the saying goes from my generation. Respectful to Mom and Sis to the max, loving them after minutes of meeting them. You could see the protection trait in them even then. The seriousness they held in their minds of what they were doing was embodied in their Moms and Sisters, Girlfriends and Fiancees, Wives and Daughters. A finer lot of young fire eaters you could never imagine!
The first deployment. A float into that blur we didn’t understand as newbies called “Operation Southern Watch”. OIF 1, 2, 3&4 combined. The goodbyes, the hellos, the world of roller coasters that is the Corps. Hurry up and wait. Deployment extended. Deployment shortened. Deployment day moved. Again. And again. Return date moved. Again. And again. The unbelievable insanity that is The Corps to those that have never dealt with Her. Agonizing. Slow. Then afterburner fast and they are gone. Then here. Sleep when? What is sleep? People offering condolences and understanding. For what? They do not know. They can only guess. Carry on. Face the day. Stay away from the news. DO. NOT. GO. NEAR. BEDWETTERS. Stay loose. Stay calm. Be the rock your Marine is and is counting on in you.
Bury your dead. Those bright eyes and bravado dressed in Marine cammies you knew and loved. Those young men that went to war with one of your own so full of purpose. Those young men that died not fighting for their country but instead for their Brother Marine next to them. Those young men that died fighting for their Moms, Sisters, Girlfriends, Wives, and Children. This is what protects a nation. This is what real Honor, Integrity, Duty is all about. You lose the first one and it destroys you. Rips your heart right out through your guts. Then another. And another. Then they come in bunches. Full scale battles head into insurgency, snipers, and IEDs. It’s like you walk around in a daze for seven months at a clip. Fearing to go home and hear the news. Afraid of what will be in your inbox. Scared to check with all the other Marine parents going through the same thing. And yet? Through it all that same pride you felt on Graduation Day at P.I. courses through your veins and sustains your heart. You truly understand what type of young men these are and could shout it from the Mountain!
You busy yourself helping your kids in their daily lives. You watch your daughter grow through Club soccer, high school, and listen to the drivel that is the protected class when a Soccer Mom goes off on “George Bush’s War”. You look at this 30 pounds of overweight shoved into spandex screaming at refs, her daughter, your daughter, on the touches and you look over at your lovely little Bride sitting there calmly taking it all in. That little Woman with a body of a goddess sitting their calmly, the mother of four with a son in harm’s way, and you smile at the sheer insanity of the protected. They do not understand and never will. They do not wake in the middle of the night thinking they heard the phone or the chime of a message hitting the inbox. Hoping, praying, trusting in God to bring her son back to her. Crying herself back to sleep and all you can do is hold on tight. No, you stand there and take it all in knowing these people are given the right vote to by men of your son’s caliber and making sure to rein in any feelings that may be regurgitating to the tip of your tongue. Your daughter trots off the field, “Kris call Daddy?”. No. Not today. Fourteen years old and scared to death for worry over her big brother. Her other brothers taking up the slack and the usual bickering non-existent during deployments. Everyone is almost holding their breath. Waiting. Nothing to do but wait!
They’re home. You’ve died twenty-two times along with the parents of their Fallen Brothers. The pain never truly subsides. It never, ever gets easier. It is always there. The unbelievable underground support network that is the strength of The Corps takes care of you. And you it. The false emotions do not go into those places. Humanity is stripped bare where we dwell. Life is all about getting through it. Gold Star parents are worshipped. They are our rock stars. They are us if not by some deflection, SAPI plate, lucky turn when the IED blows the humvee to hell and back. They are Honor personified. The Marine Wives of the Fallen are our American Idols. They are Integrity, Strength, Life. They deserve the pillar we put them on and will always have our hearts. They are all that is Good. They are Sacrifice! God Bless ‘em all!
You wait. Again. And again. There he is. Stepping off that damn slow bus. You can see the death in his eyes from where you stand. The Stare. The flatness and lack of emotion shines from the depths of what used to be the light. You take in everything at a glance. The skinny form where the beef used to be. The scars already healed. The stiffness of his walk and the sheer power that exudes from him. The unbelievable animal magnetism that screams his manhood. You take that in as you watch his Mom and Sis attack him in a hug. There was a tiny flicker of light forming his his eyes when he first spied them that has now become a full glow that threatens to light up the night. Happiness for the first time in awhile envelops him. You worry that that deadness will return and has it entered his very soul. Thoughts only of a dad. But that light! Ah, you know he will heal, you know he stands true, you know he is loved, and love heals all!
But most of all, you stand there while the women folk fuss over him and notice the numbers missing. You notice the ones that aren’t here. You witness the ones that he saw last as he put them in the MEDEVAC broken and bleeding surround him and shout to the rooftops with hilarity. You see the bond of real men and real brotherhood staring at you in the face. You stand there and remember that Pride from Parris Island and it washes over you anew! Then it is your turn and that young Marine walks up to you, shakes your hand looking you dead in the eye, and tells you he is home. There are no words to describe the Pride a dad has for his Son at that time. No words can do it justice. The pain he knows I carry for his Fallen Brothers because he carries it too. Were it I could carry his burdens and he understands. The meeting of a dad and his Son. The same as it’s been throughout history. Two men that believe in one another.
Yeah, half the folks in this great nation that these young men and women sacrifice for will never, ever “get it”. I will also never, ever stand down in their stead either. My strength is much greater than theirs. Mine was forged in the fires of Hell! Their’s given them by men and women they will never understand.
I do. We do!
Fair Winds and Following Seas!
This is from Yankeemom:
My daughter has now been in the Army for over a year. She called me the other night and we had a long chat (I love those – one doesn’t often get long chats from a very busy 19 year old).
She proceeded to tell me all that was going on in her life and what her plans were regarding promotions and getting a college degree while she’s based in the states. Who she was going to talk to, what she was thinking of going for. All in machine gun staccato and sounding really pumped.
After we hung up, I just sat there enjoying the feeling of my fierce pride for her ~ this determined young woman who is my daughter.
I thought back to that first phone call from Basic – the crying, the fear and the doubts coming through the phone lines. And my feeling of complete and utter helplessness. The letters I received where I could tell from her writing how overwhelmed and completely exhausted she was.
Then the phone calls started to change after she was in AIT. Her confidence starting to take root, though it was still rough – new faces, long hours and a lot to learn in a short time. Some days she was excited, other days she was sure the Army was just evil.
Then it was off to her duty staion. Again, new faces, a lot to learn in a short time and more responsiblities than she had ever had in her life. Some days she was really excited and other days the Army was just plain evil. “I am NOT going to reenlist!” The feelings of panic when she really believed she couldn’t handle it. The fired up phone calls describing the procedure she had just done on one of the animals. The barrage of complaints about all the idiots they let into the Army. The thrill of having an exceptional Veterinarian to work with and a new Staff Sgt who seemed to really care about her soldiers.
I have “watched” from afar (too far in my mind!) this scared little girl grow into a confident and capable young woman who is reaching out to grab life by the horns with all the ups and downs of growing up.
And she’s my daughter! I still can’t get over that part.
And finally, a story from Deb about her friend, a mom who decided to take her boys to the funeral of a Marine to show her support and to show her boys that you should back up your word with action. And in the end, they all came away with more:
Today was the funeral for Marine Captain Justin Peterson. I didn’t know Captain Peterson, but I decided to take the boys to his funeral after we learned that Fred Phelps and his band of misfits intended to picket the Peterson funeral. Captain Peterson was killed in Iraq last week, and I thought it would be as good a time as any for the boys to learn that there are people like Captain Peterson in the world and that they owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for fighting to keep our country safe for them. It was also a good time to point out that although I loathe Phelps more than anyone I can think of at the moment, Captain Peterson died to protect the basic freedoms we all take for granted, most of all the right to free speech, even for people like Phelps. However, we were going to show support for the Peterson family… In the lobby was a small basket of envelopes with a photo of Captain Peterson’s three children and a simple note stating that donations would be accepted only for the children’s college funds. The Marine in charge of the basket was so kind to the Horsemen, he leaned down so that even the shortest could say his name to the man. When we got into the church proper, we were led to our seats. As the church was filling up, I was worried that we might be taking seats away from other mourners, and so said to the usher,”We aren’t family, there might not be enough room,” and the usher said kindly,”Yes, you are. Everyone here is family”.
As we waited for the service to begin, we watched as the Marines attending the funeral all came to the coffin to pay their last respects. The serious faces and the slow salutes are something I’ll never forget. Then the funeral service started, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything like this. The grandfather of the family had been a Marine, so that is what young Justin wanted to be since he was three, according to family. He had played Marine as a child, and when he went to university enrolled in the Marine reserves. He came from a military family, and his younger brother was also a Marine. The love for the Corps and country was a theme in every tribute to Captain Peterson, from his father’s to that of his high school principal – who began his speech by saying,”I remember Justin quite clearly. He and I shared an office for several years”, which got a huge laugh from those who knew him.
For all that Captain Peterson’s family and loved ones said wonderful things about him, what was most outstanding about this funeral were the Marines themselves. We were all impressed by the last visitation before the funeral began. However, when one young Marine from Captain Peterson’s unit came forward to talk, I was surprised and moved beyond anything I’d expected. This young Marine held a notecard with the condolence message from the unit written on it. It was his job to express what Captain Peterson’s men wanted to say. He walked up to the podium, clenched and unclenched his jaw, kept adjusting his cap lower and lower, and then, finally, he just stood there. For what seemed like forever but was really closer to five minutes, the young man stood, unable to speak. Finally, he began in a rough voice which kept cracking. He had to stop a few times, and at one point his voice broke entirely. He coughed, wiped his nose and said,”Allergies”. And then stood there trying to regain his composure. Finally, after starting and stopping and invoking ‘allergies’ again, Captain Peterson’s widow walked up the stairs to the podium, placed her arm around his shoulders and clasped his hand with hers, and stood with him. After his speech was over, she walked back down with him, walked him to his seat, wiped his face with her handkerchief and went back to her seat. All, of course, without crying herself. Seeing this enormous act of compassion for another even on the day of her husband’s funeral was more than we mere mortals could bear, and there was not a dry eye in the church. The other Marines were openly crying, and one, the man whom everyone saluted, had Kleenex in both hands, and kept using first one handful and then the other.
All funerals present the departed one in the best light possible. Everyone who dies has had a positive effect on those around him, at least according to the eulogies, whether or not it is true. However, Captain Peterson really was one of those men who seemed to leave a mark on everyone’s life who knew him. His friends from high school openly wept. His best friend from university gave a speech about visiting Arlington National Cemetery with his friend Justin which made everyone in the church sit up just a little prouder and straighter. By the time the funeral was over, everyone was in tears but were also overwhelmed by what a caring and joyful family he’d grown up in. Still, the main themes were still love of family, love of country, loyalty to fellow Marines. That is no longer just a slogan to the Horsemen, something they’ve heard and read about. Now, that philosophy has a very real face – the face of Marine Captain Justin Peterson. Semper fi, Captain Peterson. The Horsemen all say “Oorah!”
Those are heroes and they put their lives on the line for us everyday. I get so tired of hearing our military bad-mouthed and degraded by the press and by those who have freedom of speech precisely because the men and women of the military, fought and died for it! So, I will stand in support of these men and women, these heroes, because they deserve it for their sacrifices and I, for one, cannot thank them enough.