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Friday, March 13, 2009

THE PASSING OF A HERO 

The word hero is attached to many people in American culture. A Quarterback throws the winning touchdown with 6 seconds left in the game, and he is called a hero. A movie actor makes a political statement while accepting an award, and he is called heroic. A politician takes a stance on an issue based on popularity polls rather than ethics and principle, and he is deemed a hero.

I think we have lost the meaning of what constitutes heroic actions, and what makes a hero. I once heard that a hero is someone who controls his fear five minutes longer than those around him. While there may be some truth to that, I think true heroism involves so much more. Some heroes are made, and some are born, but they do have some common traits.

Heroes do what most of us can’t do, or won’t do. Heroes are driven by a desire to do what is right, not what is popular. Heroes put the safety and welfare of others before their own safety and welfare. Heroes have a strong belief in personal responsibility and honor, duty to God and country, and service to others. And heroes understand that we all will face a crisis decision at some point in our lives, and they neither avoid nor defer that decision at a critical time.

In my life, I have been privileged to know many heroes, both within my family and among my friends and acquaintances. My parents were heroes to me, as were my uncles and cousin who fought in World War II. I still view my brother, who served in Korea, though the eyes of a seven year old who felt that his big brother would always be his protector. My son, nephew and niece, who today wear the uniform of our Nation, are my heroes. So too are my nephews who serve in law enforcement, risking their lives to defend others. More than twenty of my former Boy Scouts who serve, or have served in the military, are true heroes. And many members of my own generation, who fought with courage and honor in the jungles of Vietnam.

I write this because my family has lost the last warrior of our greatest generation, our beloved Uncle Bobby. Major Robert Meyer, United States Marine Corp. (ret.) left us on Thursday. I was fortunate that I could spend several days with his bride, children and grandchildren as he fought his last battle. He was a larger than life man, and a role model of what a man should be to all in our family. My purpose in this piece is not to recount his actions in multiple wars, or his contributions to our country in those times between conflicts, but simply to acknowledge the man.

My uncle was a son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle and great uncle to four generations. And he fulfilled all of those roles with honor. A loving husband and father, his time with his family was always golden. Never too busy to regale we younger ones with stories of his experiences, he did so with both insight and humor. He never discussed actual combat with us, but rather the experiences he had with his fellow Marines. His insights into the evolving technology of aviation, from his time in propeller bombers and fighters, into the jet age and beyond, bred in me a love of history that remains to this day.

He was a Marine to the end, fighting with all that was in him to remain with us for a little bit longer. As I left my extended family, and returned to my own family three states away, I had one enduring vision. When I was a boy in Chicago, Uncle Bobby was stationed in California. My mother and I drove to Glenview Naval Air Station to pick him up for a short visit with my grandfather and other family members. We drove onto the tarmac (no super security in those days), and watched as he taxied his fighter jet toward the hangers. As he opened the canopy, I watched as he removed his helmet, and carefully positioned his kepi on his head. He climbed down the short ladder, jumping past the last two rungs, and snapped a crisp salute to the ground crew. That done, he ran to my Mother, swooping his sister up in a giant bear hug. He then reached down to me, and hoisted me onto his shoulder. As we walked back to the car, several airmen walked by, saluting my uncle. He looked up at me with his trademark grin, and reminded me to return the salutes, because I was riding on the shoulder of a Marine. Despite my youth, I knew that I was in the presence of a hero, and I was so proud that others knew it too.

America has lost another hero. One who fully understood what “Semper Fidelis” means, and who lived it his entire life. Goodbye Uncle Bobby. Semper Fi!

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