"Who are the heroes?" you ask.
I had the privilege of knowing many heroes during my time in Vietnam in 1967-1969. But I doubt they are the type of men you would recognize as such. They were simply common men actually "boys" would be more accurate with regard to many of them.
They were not the "Follow Me!" type you may have seen in the movies. I have never heard of any of them call themselves brave, although I witnessed what you would call bravery on a daily basis.
So, who are the heroes?
They were the men (or boys as many of them just a year out of high school) who believed in each other. They were bound together by a simple loyalty to their fellow servicemen, their friends. They shared an unspoken trust and responsibility. Each knew that no matter how grave his peril, his friends would try and save him. They might fail and lose their own lives in the attempt. We had the same obligation. When one of our friends was in peril, we had to try, despite the danger. We had no choice. That was the pact we made. That was our code.
Heroes were soft-spoken men like Ronnie Penman, an Army sergeant. He had survived his scheduled time in combat and was scheduled to fly home that night in August 1967. But he learned the night before that four of his friends were cut off, surrounded, and fighting for their lives in the dark. He refused to leave Vietnam. Instead, he volunteered to fly on a rescue mission. His helicopter was shot down.
Other heroes were like Joe Roman, a pilot. In January of 1968, he answered a plea for help from Marines trapped on a ridge in Laos. They warned him of danger, but he disregarded the warning and flew down to attempt a rescue. He, too, was shot down.
Wounded in the head and buttocks, he survived. But he never talked about it afterward. When questioned about it, he would say that it was "nothing anyone else wouldn't have done." He was right. Joe died last year. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
There were thousands of such heroes. I am honored to have had the privilege to serve with them. Simply stated, they believed in a cause greater than themselves. They believed in each other. They knew the danger, but they also knew their responsibility and their code. They shared a brotherly love that no earthly circumstances can shatter. They, along with 58,000 plus names on The Wall in Washington, D.C., are true stories.
The heroes who survived are now in their 50s and 60s. You know them as fathers, uncles, neighbors, maybe teachers. They have jobs and families. They pay taxes and make our society function. They don't label themselves as heroes. Yet, they are American Patriots in every sense of the words.
And, deep down inside, they still maintain that brotherly love for the men they served with in Vietnam, some 30 or so years ago.
Today, there is a new set of heroes in the making with the war in Iraq. These servicemen need everyone's support. Don't let them down. They are fighting for your freedom. Without a doubt they will be heroes!
Norm Erickson is the adjutant for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 10046 in Soldotna.
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