When I was young boy in the early 1950s, I was afraid of the dank, dark basement under our house. With only one bare, low wattage bulb for light, there were far too many dark corners and frightening shadows that seemed to dance on the walls and mock me as I stood at the top of the stairs looking wide-eyed into the room. There were, I had no doubt, monsters lurking behind every pile of cast off detritus that was scattered around on the bare and chronically moist concrete floor.
On those occasions when I crept into the basement on shaky legs, it was for one reason only. My dad’s Army uniform hung in one of the gloomy corners in an old wardrobe with a warped door that wouldn’t close. I used to stand in front of the wardrobe and stare in awe at that uniform jacket, wondering what those brightly colored ribbons and medals meant, and what my father did to receive them. Dad was a great man and a great father who was always very involved with his family, his church, and his community. He never spoke of what he did during World War II and would never answer questions when pressed about the subject, but his uniform tucked away in the basement proved to me at a young age that my dad was a hero.
In 1998, I was flying Dad to Florida for a deep sea fishing trip on his 75th birthday when the single engine of my airplane failed and we crash landed into a heavily wooded area on the Florida/Alabama state line. After bouncing off of a couple trees and plowing through a fence, we finally skidded to a halt and crawled out to assess the damage. Once we determined we had no significant injuries, Dad surveyed the sky for a long moment before saying, “Well, at least there weren’t any Germans up there this time!”
“This time?” My mind immediately went to that old wardrobe and his Army Air Corps uniform with those medals on the jacket. There was probably a great war story there that I would never hear because Dad simply didn’t speak of such things. His statement did give me the idea for what I hope is a great book. Unspoken Valor is my way to pay homage to my dad and the other heroes of WWII and all the other wars in which our young men have fought and died, often with no recognition of their acts of valor and meritorious service to their nation. My suspicion is that there are many heroes out there…soldiers, firemen, policemen, teachers, and others…whom we would never expect to be capable of heroism because of their quiet demeanor and attention to mundane life pursuits like church, family, Little League baseball, and other simple attempts to serve others and bring light into the world.
When Dad passed away in 2007, many at his graveside service were shocked when a United States Air Force color guard and a Scottish bagpiper showed up to honor him. We were used to seeing an honor guard from the local VFW show up for veterans’ funerals, but most had never seen a bona fide, polished, professional honor guard at any local funeral. Quite frankly, I didn’t know what prompted their attendance either, but certainly appreciated the additional solemnity they brought to the service. Naturally, my thoughts went back to the old wardrobe, the dank basement, and the uniform. There was a story there worth telling.
Maybe we should all look with a more discerning eye at the people we meet during our daily life. That disabled vet, that homeless man crouched in the alley, those parents playing with their kids in the park…they may all have performed great acts of heroism, but now live their lives in a way that makes us discount the possibility of their valor. There was certainly a quiet hero in my house. Is there one in yours?
Unspoken Valor is my tribute to Dad, but I hope it speaks for the silent heroes all around us.