(In Honor of those who have kept America independent – from the troops of Washington at Valley Forge, to Schwarzkopf‘s Slam Dunk of Saddam, to the Shock and Awe of Bush, to the soldiers out in the field EVERY day protecting the lives of those who are oppressed and advancing American ideals. Freedom NEVER comes free.)
By Gray Bostick
Four basic letters; one simple word. But few terms in the English language carry more weight, designate a more hallowed and honored status.
And even fewer are more misused.
On this Veterans Day, it is shameful, at best, how society assigns its admiration and accolades to so-called sports “heroes” who claim to make a social statement by disrespecting the flag and anthem of our nation—the very flag that so many of our forefathers selflessly fought and died under, actually protecting the rights of arrogant athletes to be so foolish as to consider themselves activists simply by kneeling during our national anthem — before playing a game, then returning to their multi-million dollar mansions in gated communities and enjoying their platinum card lifestyles.
Heroes? Ha! With the exception of the couple handfuls of today’s professional sports stars who actually put their money, time, and fame behind their political or social stances, the small group that looks beyond Twitter and ESPN soundbites to actually getting something DONE, as opposed to just making their opinions known, these guys are closer to zeros than heroes. A bunch of over-entitled and self-important narcissistic jerks who, at the end of the day, couldn’t care less about their fellow man. Or, even worse, given the prevalence of domestic abuse issues among pro athletes, women, in particular.
You want to talk about a sports hero? Forget these overblown dudes on your TV these days. Try to match Roberto Clemente, a Puerto Rican-born baseball star who, over the course of an 18-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, played in 15 All Star games, won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves, four National League batting titles, was the first player of Latin American or Caribbean descent to be named both a league Most Valuable Player and World Series MVP, was twice a World Series champion, and batted over .300 in 13 seasons while amassing over 3,000 hits. His off-season hobby? Doing charity work for the underprivileged and economically-distressed people in his beloved Latin America and Caribbean. Such was his commitment to his home region that he organized relief flights to Managua, Nicaragua, which had been heavily damaged by a massive earthquake in late 1973. Learning that his first three flights of relief supplies had been diverted by the corrupt Somoza regime ruling Nicaragua at the the time, Clemente chartered a DC-7 for a New Year’s Eve supply flight—which he decided to accompany himself to ensure it got to the people most in need. Sadly, the flight crashed soon after take-off, killing Clemente, at age 38, along with everyone else on-board.
How big a hero was Clemente? So great was his appreciation of his good fortune and concern for his fellow man that Pittsburgh Pirate catcher Manny Sanguillen, who considered Clemente a personal hero, chose not to attend a memorial service for the fallen star–the only Pirate to do so–opting instead to scuba-dive the spot of the crash in a futile effort to recover the body of his friend and teammate, which was never found. And Clemente’s on-field accomplishments were so outstanding that the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame held a special vote the following year and amended the five-year waiting rule specifically so that Clemente could be inducted immediately.
THAT, folks, is a sports HERO.
But that’s irrelevant anyway, for, as Hemingway noted: “There are only three real sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are mere recreation.” If you want to see REAL heroes, look to the guys with the American Flag on their sleeves, the soldiers who have sworn to protect our way of life, even if it costs them theirs.
War is certainly not a game. And in my own life I’ve been fortunate to work with and get to know several veterans, men who amazed me with the depth of their sacrifice and commitment to American ideals, men who saw things that changed them forever, who lost dear friends right before their eyes, who even suffered severe injuries themselves, yet never allowed any of it to slow their pace, diminish their patriotism, nor weaken their resolve.
Those are HEROES.
Men such as Roy Arant, and others like him, who piloted B-29 Super Fortresses off North Field on Tinian Island in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, making the 1,500 mile flight, the very outer range of their planes, to fire-bomb Japan, or mine the Shimonosaeki Straits—dodging Japanese fighter planes and both ground and naval-based anti-aircraft fire both going in and heading out, knowing that even the slightest problem, either mechanical or enemy-inflicted, would mean that they wouldn’t be able to make the long flight back to their small home island and would, at best, have to ditch at sea. And every morning they would arise and have breakfast with a mess hall full of other crews, knowing that, on average, two of those eleven-man crews would not return for another meal. Or home to loved ones. Then they’d get up the next day and do it again…day after day after day.
That’s a HERO.
Or Bobby Griffin of Florence. A former page for U.S. Senator “Cotton Ed” Smith and 1943 Citadel graduate, Bobby was dealt a much more challenging, and dangerous, war mission: fighting the Nazis in the cold and wet European Theatre as a member of the 26th Division of the 3rd U.S. Army, under the command of General George Patton. In this role, Griffin had an up-close and personal experience with the viciousness of infantry warfare, fearlessly leading his company into action and being among the first to encounter and engage German troops in the Battle of the Ardennes, earning a battlefield promotion to First Lieutenant for his meritorious service and heroic actions during a particularly savage Christmas Day battle.
Griffin also had a unique war record in that he was among the few Allied soldiers to have become a German prisoner of war, not once, but TWICE, originally being captured on January 14, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge, one of the largest and bloodiest European battles of World War II, while leading Company A of the 26th Division of Third Army’s 104th infantry on a special-duty patrol. With luck and daring, Griffin was able to escape his original captors, but was soon re-captured and confined to Stalag-9B, a notorious encampment where he remained until the rescue of Allied POWs near war’s end, which was joyfully celebrated by his family, who had only known only him to be missing in action until a neighbor recognized his face in a newspaper photo taken of Allied prisoners being liberated. So selfless and brave were Griffin’s actions in the European Theatre that, in recognition of his war service and valor, Griffin was justifiably awarded a chest full of medals, including: the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, four Purple Hearts, and a P.O.W. Medal, among numerous others. In fact, Bobby Griffin’s efforts and unselfish service to his country were so significant that, upon his passing in 1994, a tribute to him was read into the Congressional Record by South Carolina Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings.
And men like Griffin didn’t rest on their laurels. Instead, in keeping with that generation’s dedication to protecting American freedoms and values, he quietly looked for ways to continue to serve, remaining active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), serving as Commander of Florence’s VFW Post 3181 for many years, and as State Commander of the VFW in 1951. And even played a vital role in the development of NASCAR as a viable sport by entering the very first car into the inaugural Southern 500, and serving on the Darlington track’s board of directors while continuing to support NASCAR and many very well-known and renowned racers via sponsorship.
That’s a HERO.
Or maybe Arthur “Toot” Davis, who was drafted into the military and sent to Vietnam for his high-school Senior Trip…and brought back chunks of shrapnel in his arm that you could still feel, and a crater in a thigh where shrapnel was field-dug from his leg, as souvenirs—shrapnel that hit him after passing thru the body of another soldier when a grenade, tossed from out of nowhere, exploded at chest level. And lived the nightmare of celebrating with a buddy who had completed his time “in country” and only needed to make it back to camp the next day to be helicoptered out and homeward-bound to loved ones, but instead see him killed by a single sniper shot to the head during a patrol break. Day after day, buddy after buddy a bloody casualty or fatality…then, with a prayer for him and his family, they’d move on.
That’s a HERO.
But for perhaps an even better view of a HERO, just look at today’s service men and women, who are 100% totally volunteer. They sign up for whatever awaits. Whatever. And they do it for us, not themselves. Then we send them into harm’s way all around the globe, far too often for debatable or unfounded political reasons, or without the proper support or equipment, or even a clear-cut purpose or goal. And for that sacrifice what do they get in return? The possibility of suffering horrific injuries from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that leave them physically challenged for life, or emotionally damaged to the point of being unable to cope due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and often unable to access the medical care and attention they so badly need that approximately 20 Vets commit suicide every day. And yet young people still sign up to defend the American way of life.
Those are indeed HEROES.
And if you want to meet a real HERO, just look to your neighbors and the people in your own life: the service or National Guard member guy or gal a few pews over at church, the individual driving a car with military insignia, the WW II vet drinking a lonely cup of coffee, the young person who aspires to military service — or their mother. Or maybe just encounter with someone, like the stranger wearing a Vietnam Veteran cap I recently held a door for at Sprint, who told me, in reply to my thanks for his service, “It was MY honor to serve under OUR flag.”
Heroes are among us, folks, not just on TV, and kneeling is for prayer.
And we’ve never needed it more.