There was an elderly gentleman who lived down the street from me in Las Vegas. I hadn't paid much attention to him for the first couple of years that we live close together, I would just see him sitting out on his porch or walking his Yorkshire Terrier from time to time. That was about it.
One friday afternoon, I saw him going through some things in his garage and stopped to see if he needed any help with what he was doing. He said "No, he was doing fine, but thanks anyway". I started to leave but something caught my eye and I couldn't help but mention the object to him. It was a rather large Nazi flag that looked almost new. I asked him about it and he seemed to not want to talk about it. I just stood there looking him straight in the eyes and he said it was a trophy he had taken from a POW Camp he had been in during the last weeks of WWII. I said "Really?", and he began to tell me about how he had been captured in the Colmer pocket. He was getting tired after about 20 minutes of conversation so I bade him good bye and left. The nest day I noticed he was having a garage sale and stopped by to see what he had. The stuff in the garage was the usual stuff you find at garage sales all over the country, nothing much to get excited about. It was what was in the house that got my blood pumping through my veins, however.
There on the wall was a very large box frame with the medals and decorations this unseemingly humble man had hanging on his living room wall. I couldn't believe my eyes. There in front of me were more medals than I had ever seen from one man and being an Army Brat, I have seen my share.
At the top of the frame were patches of the 45th Division, The Thunderbirds, Master Sargeant stripes and a 5th Army patch. Below them was a lone medal - the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest medal for bravery in the U.S. Military. Below that were 5 Silver Stars and below those hung 6 Bronze Stars with "V" Devices signifying they were awarded for valor. Below that were 5 Purple hearts. Below that were the usual medals given for anyone who served in combat in Europe during the war. There was also a POW Medal that had obviously been added recently.
In another smaller box frame there were foreign decorations including the French Croix d Guerre in the grade of Chevalier. There were other French and English decorations that I did not recognize. In yet another boz frame were another Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Above them was a solitary CIB with a star in the wreath, meaning the award had been awarded twice. To most soldiers who have been in combat, the CBI is the only award worth having as it indicates you have been in the line of enemy fire and have returned that fire. Below the Silver, Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart were some other medals from the South Korean Government, including the Korean Medal of Honor (I can't remember it's name - "Tak" something.
In any case, here was an old man that had been awarded the second highest award for bravery once, the third highest award for bravery 6 times, the fourth highest award for bravery 7 times, 6 Purple Hearts for having been wounded 6 different times, France's second highest award for gallantry, S. Korea's Medal of Honor and all the other decorations displayed in those cases and no one knew this man even existed outside his family.
You can talk and read all about America's heroes from all the wars fought over the years and centuries but to my way of thinking this old, stooped man was the quintessential hero of this country. A single act of heroism can get a person America's Medal of Honor, the highest award there is. How that medal pales in the gleeming light of this old man's display.
Heros? There is the kind of hero movies should be made about - books written about - and statues erected for.
That, readers, is what I call a real HERO.