Hero

29 05 2011

About six years ago while my mother was still living, she, my Lady and I flew out to Las Vegas.  I’m sure just the mention of Las Vegas brought visions to the mind of many of casinos and shows which is the main reason people go there. But for us the trip held a different motive; my mother’s older brother, Carl lives there. Here was a man who worked his entire life for the government starting in the 40s as young Marine recruit who fought in WW2, to many different civilian service positions that took him all around the world until he finally finished his years of working at the Nevada Test Site. And anyone who knows the area knows the about the only place you have to live out there is Vegas.  As Carl moved on in years he became comfortable living there for the two reasons as he told me; “Johnny, I enjoy the climate here and where else am I gonna go and find incredible buffets like what they have in these casinos for only $5.00?!?! I took in a few of those meals; man has a good argument.    

 But this was more than a social visit to see a relative, this was a chance for my mother see her big brother one last time. Mom was in early to mid stages of dementia, I’m not sure how much she understood her condition, but one day she had an anxiousness to see Carl again to talk to him.  I know it was important to her and I agreed to take her since going by herself would have been impossible, and besides, this would give me opportunity to see not only my uncle, but also the most prominent hero in my childhood.  Never having a father, I had to have others as role models that I looked up to and respected. Carl who was a marine that fought at the Battle Iwo Jimo, who was part of the 1st troops to land on mainland Japan after they surrendered at the end of the war, and who had visited places that most only had read or heard about in his life fit the bill of hero to a wide eyed dreamer of a boy to a tee.  All that aside, it was good to just to sit and talk to Carl about times, old and new like we had done often in the past. To talk about outlooks, philosophies and any and all subjects no matter how trivial for hours on end was pure delight.  This was one of the main reasons we had come and I was delighted with the time spent with Uncle Carl.  We shared many topics that brought smiles and laughter through the four days there, with the exception of one story he related to me.  I believe Carl, at the age of 81 then, could out walk many men his junior and it took every bit that Cathy and I had at times to keep up with him.  I commented on this and asked him if he still worked out as he had in his younger days.  He showed me exercise equipment there at the house that he used and then proceeded to tell how he used to go out for long walks, but had to stop.  It seems over the years, his neighborhood had changed from the time he moved there and recently when he went out, some youngsters who had never been taught to respect their elders would use him for target practice, pelting him with raw eggs.  Now, I’m the type of person who can put up with a lot; I can truthfully say it takes a lot to get me ruffled.  But when faced with the revelation that this was happening to someone I cared about, a rather ugly side of me begins to rise.  I felt my temper swelling up.  I wanted so much for him to show me where these delinquents lived so I could talk to their fathers in a manner of negotiations commonly referred to in certain small elite circles as “hillbilly diplomacy!”  (I’ll let your own minds consider what this entails.) Carl didn’t hold to the same mind set on this topic as I did.  “It’s no big deal” he said.  “You just pick a different direction and go with it.”  I admired his point of view on the whole matter, but still, I have to admit, it tugged at my crawl something fierce.

One evening Carl took Cathy and I down toFremont Street.  This was the old strip there in Vegas where the Frontier Hotel with the famous cowboy out front and the Golden Nugget are located.  This area is no longer a driving thoroughfare as they have made it into somewhat of a mall-type atmosphere with four blocks now under a large mesh arched roof.  Once per hour in the evening, they would turn down all the lights and put on the most spectacular laser show I had ever witnessed.  Vivid images of mountains, oceans and prairies spanned the entire length of the enclosed area.  This would be accompanied by magnificent music in a surround sound setting, the combination of which made you actually feel like you were there witnessing these magnificent sights.  At the end of each presentation was a large laser image of an American eagle flying across the expanse followed by a crescendo of fire works.  My lady and I were completely enthralled in the whole experience so much that when the lights came back up, I looked around and realized Carl was not with us. 

When I spotted him, several people had cornered him and were shaking his hand.  When I approached, I could hear them saying, “We just want you to know how much it is an honor to shake your hand, one who gave so much for our country.”  After about 30 seconds of continued adulation, these people walked on leaving the three of us standing there for a moment with Carl shaking his head chuckling and then pointing to the hat that he had on that these people saw,  that distinguished him as one of the Marines who fought at the battle of Iwo Jimo.  With a smile, he said, “I’ve got to remember to throw this hat away some day.”  I said, “But Carl, it says something about you.”  TheBattlefor Iwo Jimo was the bloodiest confrontation in the South Pacific during WWII with 26,000 casualties on the American side and 7,000 of them losing their lives.  It is considered by many historians as one of the most strategic victories of the war while at the same time being one of the most hard fought.  I went on to say, “You went through one of the most incredible assaults ever launched and are here today as a proud reminder of the sacrifice that you and all the other men made for the rest of us.”  Uncle Carl shoved his hands in his pockets, gave a slight shrug and then just quietly said, “It’s no big deal.” 

I Peter 5:5-7 – “. . . All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

Carl did not realize it and most likely would argue a little with me, but in those four little words, he emulated a Christ like attitude.  Where one group or generation recognized him as an American icon for his service, another treated him with complete contempt and disrespect.  To sum up both episodes with the same words, “It’s no big deal.” 

Many people like Carl who were veterans of that war never saw they did something great or something for which they expected to be praised. They did what they had to do not for the glory, but because they saw it as the right thing to do. 

Unfortunately, a few of us who call ourselves Christians seem to think we should receive some type of recognition  for what we are doing in the name of the Lord and end up missing the point  of what Jesus wants us to reflect to others.  He was brought into this world as a common man, and lived most of His life with little fanfare.  It was only in His last three years that He set about doing the duty He was called to by the Father; spreading the Word that salvation comes to all who believe and accept His gift of grace and mercy.  When hard times came and many people turned on Him, He accepted this fate knowing that it was not the easiest thing to do but the right thing so that we might have life eternal.  And that, my friend, is not only the big deal but it is the real deal.

Thank you Uncle Carl and all the men and women who placed and are still placing themselves on the front line for others because they know it is the right thing to do for our freedom. May none of us ever forget.


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