A Memorial Day thought: God Give Us More Quiet Heroes
by Senator Don Gaetz
As a boy, I could never understand why my father was reluctant to talk about his military service. He was hardly a shy man. And he loved this country and would and did kill its enemies. He just had little patience and less respect for those who pounded their chests and made themselves the heroes of their own war stories.
It wasn't until his death at age 49 and a military buddy was helping us prepare his obituary that I learned the bragging rights he could have claimed but didn't. He fought in the mud and blood and cold and heat in two theatres, and, at the end of WWII, this man who had initially refused a commission and enlisted as a "buck private" was leading hundreds of soldiers. When Hitler was beat, he volunteered for the Far East, his trip cut short only by Japan's surrender. A box I had never seen in his old green trunk in the basement was filled with medals.
My father wasn't much different from many, many others in uniform then and now. These are men and women who don't have to be called twice to defend the Flag. They just don't wrap themselves in it.
The reason they don't talk about themselves is because their service isn't and wasn't about themselves. It's about their country. And their buddies. And an uncomplicated code of honor that doesn't need puffing up.
For ten years I served on the Okaloosa School Board with a quiet hero named Howard Hill. He, too, volunteered. He flew combat missions in Vietnam, was shot down and wounded, was caged and tortured for years as a prisoner of war. He stood up to the worst and gave his best. Then, he came home to a divided, embittered and largely ungrateful nation. And still he continued to sacrifice and lead from the front. He looked for his buddies who didn't come home. He comforted and stood up for their families. He served and commanded with the greatest distinction.
When Libby and Howard settled in Niceville in the 1990's, the first thing they did was to sign up to help this community - not as headliners or chestpounders but as servants. For years he has made sure that every kid in his town who wanted to play soccer could play. He built the most successful youth athletic program around. But it was never about Howard. It was about the kids, other people's kids.
If you drive by the community soccer fields in Niceville you'll see a fresh new sign naming the place in honor of Howard Hill. The plaque rightly calls him "hero of our country, hero of our community." We had to do it as a surprise. Had he known, he would have stopped us.
In the decade I served with Howard, and in the fourteen years I've known him, he has never once called attention to his extraordinary service to America. He never calls himself "Colonel Hill." On the School Board, when some people use terms like "sacrifice" or "crisis" or "pain" to exaggerate a condition or policy decision or consequence, he has never once shamed us with the real meaning of those words or even raised his eyebrows. But when he leads the Pledge of Allegiance at meetings or assemblies, we all know what it means when Howard Hill comes to attention and places his hand over his heart.
When you are in the presence of Howard Hill or men and women like him, you seldom hear the first person singular. There is no need for stretched superlatives or raised voices or claims of great deeds or lists of benefits owed to them. What they have done speaks louder than blaring bugles. Who they are fills the room already.
Right now, these are pretty tough times for our state and our country. So many of the usual indicators are jagged or pointing down. Problems are real and not easily solved. We face new realities and hard choices, but nothing like those Howard Hill and other veterans have faced and conquered.
When I put out the Flag for Memorial Day I thought of my dad and I thought of my friend, Howard Hill. As the breeze lifted the colors, my hopes lifted, too. And I thanked God for quiet heroes.
To send Senator Don Gaetz and Email: http://www.gulf1.com/Elected/gaetz/Gaetzmail.htm