Mychal Wilmes: Quiet heroes are among us every day
The word "hero" and its status can be diminished when it's mixed with celebrity.
There are many heroes among us, if the word is used for those who go about their business, nurture their children and strive to do what is right in the right way.
I found a couple of heroes on a warm mid-day afternoon at the West Concord gasoline station. They were seated at a small table in the back. I had come to make amends to former Tech. Sgt. Thomas L. Hall. I had slighted him more than a year ago.
Hall had given me a book he wrote about his wartime experiences, and I promised to read it. But it simply collected dust on the shelf. I felt lower than a snake's belly when I admitted I still hadn't gotten around to reading it. Anyone who puts pen to paper deserves as much.
"You should read it,'' a table-sitter said. "It's a good book.''
I've read many books about war — some about mind-bending decisions that led to the defeat of great armies; self-aggrandizing treatises written by retired generals and politicians; and books penned by grunt soldiers.
Hall's work didn't disappoint because it was written from the heart — warm in style and without 25-cent words when a nickel's worth would do. To an extent, it reminded me of Ernie Pyle's writing. Pyle embedded himself with Marines and G.I.s in both the European and Pacific theaters. He wrote about their everyday lives and post-war dreams. His columns appeared in more than 300 newspapers across the country. He was more than a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist; He ate K-rations with them and shared their fright. It wasn't surprising that when a Japanese sniper felled him, he was among the few civilians who received the Purple Heart and burial in a military cemetery.
Hall's service story starts like many others — a quiet Sunday morning interrupted by news that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Because he was a teenager, the Texas-born Hall needed his parents' signature to enlist. That was followed by flight training, seemingly endless waiting and changes of direction. While on assignment in California, he met the prettiest brunette he'd ever seen.
It was nothing less than love at first sight, but marriage would have to wait until the war's end.
Hall's bomber was on its 25th mission when flak and engine trouble brought it down. Hall found shelter with a farm family, who fed him before alerting German authorities in return for financial reward. Moldy potatoes, watery soup and black bread extended with too much sawdust left men weakened with dysentery. Forced marches from one camp to another allowed for citizens to take revenge with sticks and stones. Allied planes mistook the ragged column for German soldiers and strafed it.
That was a lifetime ago. After the war, Tom and Roberta moved to West Concord, opened an appliance store and raised a family.
Some veterans share their stories while others lock it all inside.
There were other heroes sitting at the table, people of quiet lives that on the surface might not seem at all remarkable. We are heroes if we attempt to do the right things in the right way.
Celebrity worship of sports stars and Kardashians is dangerous in that it ultimately disappoints. We cannot be them, nor should we be anything other than who we are.
The table empties.
The noise of cars on the highway and a pheasant rooster's call accompanies me to the mailbox. The mission accomplished, I feel things are as they should be. Our shared sacrifices and laughter bind we heroes together in a beautiful tapestry woven by unseen and often unappreciated hands.
I told Tom that I enjoyed learning more about his life. My history and yours also is worth sharing — be it in book form or told over coffee and doughnuts.