Not long I ago, I went to a funeral for a great man. He was a businessman, a man who raised a family, and a man awarded for his bravery as he fought on the Pacific islands during World War II. Today’s world would judge that man for his hard ways. But, I feel lucky to have known him and to have worked for him. That man was a hero of mine. I know he was one of those young men who lost a lot killing to protect America and watching their buddies die. That experience made him a man who did not tolerate the bull manure most of us try to pass off.
That man’s funeral service depressed me. Whether or not the folks meant it, it seemed like it was something to just get done and over with. There almost seemed to be a sense a relief that the old fella died. Far be it for me to judge a mourning family and friends, but I got sick to my stomach at how one of our nation’s heroes left this world in arrangements that were just so common. The pit in my stomach developed when I tried to tell a relative of the great man how much of a hero he was to me, only to be met with a dismissive look. I got the hint and said no more. That is how so many Americans deal with the passing of the old heroes. It is just something to get done and over with. Again, manners made me say nothing.
But, in this space, I will say a helluva lot more. Everyday, the old men who fought for this nation in World War II and held the line in Korea are leaving us. Among them are bona fide heroes. They are men who killed and lived with loss. They are men who put that behind them to go on to build this nation’s economy and raise families. They are American heroes. They gave all they had to this country during their service in the military and after as they built lives without complaints. Those men are the ones who actually gave America the power it has in the world today.
So, when some old guy is ailing, maybe you ought to try to take in mind the man he once was. Maybe he was the guy who stormed a pillbox on Iwo Jima, or was a guy who lived with black feet for more than fifty years after being frost bitten in Korea. Maybe the old guy next door still lives with watching his brothers in arms die in Europe.
Those old guys who are dying off now did not have the internet. They do not have Facebook pages or blogs. What they did have was guts and integrity, the likes of which far too few in this generation have or even appreciate. Each and every day, more of those heroes die. The least we can do is paying them the proper respect for the men that they were and remained to their dying day.
The lack of respect for those old veterans illustrates the lack of respect and knowledge that the American people have for those who serve now. It is telling that those still living that fought at Iwo Jima respect those who fight in Iraq and Afghanistan more than the most of the American people. Those old men, dying off as they are, understand the sacrifice of those who both die and live in battle. The ignorance of the rest of us that makes an old vet’s funeral seem like a hassle and seem oblivious of the sacrifices of the old guy and the men and women today, says that so many of us are unworthy of the sacrifice of life and soul those who fight for us make.
So, when that old neighbor or relative who fought in World War II and Korea passes on, take a moment to honor them. Think of what they did and lived with their entire lives to give us the freedom we enjoy. Give those old heroes their due. Then, look around and be sure to honor the heroes who stand guard for us today as well. If you are too worried that grandpa did not leave you enough money or that your current neighbor who is deployed has a wife who cannot get the grass cut like you like, well, you are a piss ant.