Thursday, December 6, 2007

Heroes: whether they like the title or not

I just finished reading Babe Heffron and Bill Guarnere's gut wrenching book about their 63-year friendship that started during World War II with Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division - it was absolutely overwhelming. It is a humbling experience just to read their thoughts, and the journey brings tears down my face.
My grandfather and one of his brothers fought in the Pacific Theater during the war. He was shot in the backend during the Battle of Guadalcanal, while his brother was dodging bullets with the Flying Tigers. Their four other brothers fought in the European Theater - two jumped into Normandy and the other two were in the Navy. They all died before I could hear stories from their own lips and before I could say thank you.
This book, Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends, is exactly what I've wanted from my own family. The story. The true story in a candid, forthright and sometimes funny manner.
Some of the stories are the same as in Stephen Ambrose's book and in the HBO series, Band of Brothers, but in much more vivid detail. Their illustrations put the reader right in the stream where they found water for the dehydrated boys...full of brains from a dead soldier.
I was in Bastogne one night last Christmas and saw the field that lay before the paratroopers of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment as they held the line during the Battle of the Bulge. The forest looms over the field, dark and foreboding. The whispers of a half century ago can be heard through the wind. The blistering cold slithers and tightens around anyone it meets. As I drew my coat closer, all I could think about were the boys who lived in holes in the ground for nearly three months in this exact spot with little to no clothes or food.
There are no words to describe the raw emotion I feel when I read their words or watch their story. Our country owes them everything. And I am humbled at their generosity, their own humility and their dedication to this country and to their men. We must learn from their story. We must preserve it. And we must raise our children to appreciate every thing they have. Because nothing is free. Freedom isn't free. McArthur didn't do it alone. Patton didn't do it alone. The men of Easy Company did the dirty work and that sacrifice is worth more than all the things we could ever buy for ourselves.
My sincere gratitude goes to them and to every man who fought, every mother who lost and every wife who prayed during their war and every war this country lives through. Babe and Bill don't like to be called heroes but whether they like it or not, they will always be the real heroes that this country so desperately needs.