Monday, May 31, 2004

Today is the day for our real heroes

Take time to remember veterans

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It is the one day to recall who is a hero and who plays games. If Memorial Day exists only to remind us that sacrifice runs deeper than a bunt or a long flyball, it will have served its purpose yet another year.

The old men gathered along The Mall in Washington this weekend, to admire a tribute to them that was long overdue. The World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,200 a day. Those that remain remind us that duty and humility once carried the day, teamwork could mean living or not and that courage had nothing to do with coming back early from knee surgery.

I love to hear their stories. I seek them out, because they offer a truth more pure than any I find in a gym or a ballpark. I try to put myself in their places. If I'd been 18 years old in 1944, would I have measured up? Would I have done my part to save the world?

photo gallery
Photo gallery
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Why we remember
The veterans I've met strike me with their composure and their regal bearing. They'd have made great quarterbacks. Dick Kerin, of Greenhills, was among the first to land on Iwo Jima. He saw the flag raised on Mt. Suribachi. He has a newspaper photo of himself with a gaping hole in his shoulder, where a bullet struck him.

My uncle Bob was in the Army Air Corps. He was an airplane mechanic on an island in the Pacific. When he wasn't mending busted engines, he was part of platoons that roamed the jungle after dark, seeking Japanese. My mother had horrible nightmares about her big brother, when she was 12 and he was over there. Her first cousin was killed in Italy. A sniper shot him. He was sitting on some church steps.

My wife's uncle led reconnaissance patrols in France and Germany in 1944. Pete was an Army private. It wasn't until about five years ago he showed the family the Purple Heart he received, for a shrapnel wound he took from an artillery shell. My father-in-law was a flight engineer and a top turret gunner on a B-17, in the 389th Bomber Group of the Army Air Corps, stationed in French Morocco in 1945, when the war ended. Sid was 18 years old.

His best friend strung communications wire in the jungles of the south Pacific. He was sitting in a foxhole with another soldier when an explosion ripped off the other man's face. That's all he has ever said about it.

A few years ago, Loveland High School gave diplomas to two of its students, who enlisted before their class graduated. One guy is still a barber in town. He pulled a book from a shelf and pointed to a soldier, shivering in the cold of a Belgian winter, 1945. "That's me," he said.

The other guy was one of eight soldiers who became buddies during training in southern California. The eight shipped out to Hawaii. From there, seven of the eight were sent to Okinawa. All but him. All seven died. The memory makes the Loveland man cry, 60 years later.

We can't thank them enough. The best we can do is pause and reflect, stand straight at the games when the anthem is played, and live well the lives they've helped to make possible.

I have a friend I've never met. Jeff Brown, Xavier '97, northern Kentucky resident, is an Army 1st lieutenant. He commands a transportation unit that runs supplies between Kuwait and Baghdad. We met on the Internet. Brown loves the Reds; I admire what he's doing. He's coming home on furlough for two weeks June 29. He wrote Sunday.

"So much to look forward to," he wrote. "Starting to make a list of all the must-sees (and) must-eats! It will be unbelievable to find that small patch of ground that's home."

It is unbelievable. Give us this one day a year to remember just how unbelievable it is. And those who made it that way.



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