Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting at Arnold R. Kelley American Legion in Hermon to discuss the sacrifices of service members and their families during the current conflict. Admittedly, I was intimidated. Legion members in my hometown are prominent business people, teachers and opinion leaders. So, it was a big deal for me to present to a Legion post filled with veterans who “advocate patriotism and honor, promote a strong national security, and a continued devotion to fellow service members and veterans.”
It abhors military professionals to think they would embarrass themselves in the eyes of the men and women who have gone before them. These veterans are the board of directors for our military. They watch over our decisions, provide advice on how to do the job, and most importantly, hold us accountable when we make mistakes. Most importantly, their service and continued commitment to our country inspires other to serve their country.
I was once asked who inspired me to join the military. Was it World War II’s Audie Murphy — that war’s most decorated hero? No, the man who inspired me was not Audie Murphy or someone like him. My Uncle Gary Smith inspired me to join the military. He was a cook on a submarine and his sailors loved his cooking. I was inspired to join the military by my Uncle Sam Smith. His claim to fame was that while riding on a motorcycle he delivered ice cream to soldiers in Korea. He loved his job and was proud to have delivered the ice cream before it melted. My uncles inspired me to join the military.
On my mother Joan Lyon’s mantle in the family farmhouse sits a four-fold picture frame that holds the Navy boot camp pictures of my father, Alvin, my brothers Dave and Dan, and me. In those pictures, the American flag hangs in the background and we beam from beneath our “dixie cup” hats in our crackerjack dress uniforms. My dad was a gunner’s mate, my brother Dave a machinist mate, my brother Dan a submarine machinist mate and me a cryptologist. My father and brothers inspired me to join the military.
My great uncle Mickey (Master Sgt. William Crawford — my son’s namesake) was the closest thing to being a hero in my family. He served in the Special Forces during World War II and fought in Africa and China. But I never knew those things about him until he died. He was too humble to talk about them.
You won’t find a Medal of Honor among the Lyon, Smith and Crawford families. No Purple Hearts. No Silver Stars. We received good conduct medals and a pat on the back. No heroes in my family — just a bunch of guys who served their country when called upon. Then, we went back to work and raised a family.
During my meeting at the American Legion, I relearned who makes up the lion’s share of our country’s veterans. The board of directors for our current military is made up of the guys and gals who just did their jobs. For every Medal of Honor winner there are a million service members like my brothers who lived up to their obligation and then left the military. For every Purple Heart there are probably a million others just like my Uncle Gary and Uncle Sam, who were never wounded in battle. They are our veteran population’s large, silent majority.
So, when you hug your veteran on Memorial Day this year, chances are you’re hugging an ordinary, average person, who probably never shot a weapon in anger or led a bayonet charge or saved a buddy’s life. They probably just put on their uniform and did what they were told to do. They might be a member of your hometown American Legion or VFW. They might not. My bet is that you won’t be holding a full-fledged hero in your arms. You will be holding someone who had the courage to put on their nation’s uniform and promise to die for your freedom. No big deal? Maybe you should hug a little tighter.
Darryl W. Lyon is a major in the United States Army and lives in Bangor.