FROM THE HEART OF A REAL HERO
DAVID H. HACKWORTH

Jim Silva was a draftee in my infantry battalion in Vietnam. He hated the war, the Army and, for a good while, me. By the time his combat tour was up, he'd gone from point man to platoon sergeant and been awarded a chestful of medals for heroism and multiple wounds. Like millions of combat vets before him, he then headed home to try to reclaim the life he'd led before Uncle Sam said, "I want you." He sent me some words last week that I felt were worth sharing.

The Memorial weekend is supposed to honor the nation's warriors who have fallen. But that doesn't seem to be happening anymore, and those that our country does honor usually aren't really heroes.

If you attended any veterans' memorial service last month, you would have seen that those who took part were mostly veterans and their relatives.

Most Americans have all but eliminated patriotism as a source for celebration. Memorial weekend means that they get an extended vacation, with pay. Few citizens other than those who've served and their families have any idea of the sacrifices their countrymen made in the past so they can do their thing in the freest land in the world.

When a soldier goes off to war, the sacrifice he and his family makes is tremendous. It seems today that only those who have gone to war have any idea of what I am talking about.

Again the movie industry has done itself proud. They released 'Pearl Harbor' on Memorial Day. Was this date a coincidence? I think not. Was Hollywood concerned about honoring our war dead? I think not. What they did worry about was making the most money possible on this film, which was more fiction than fact.

Hollywood loves making war movies. Kind of ironic that most American actors wouldn't be caught dead wearing our uniform off the set, yet they love to portray warriors and receive accolades for being a silver-screen war hero.

It would be nice if this country would get back to honoring and respecting our fallen, but that may now be beyond the average citizen's reach. Pride of being an American may also be a thing of the past.

Frequently, politicians comment on why they ran for office, stating that they want to serve their country. Yet truth to tell, most of them never served in our armed services.

A hero is not a politician, basketball star or a movie actor. None of these people come anywhere near the heroes I remember. They may be stars in their own fields, but they are not heroes. To be a hero in my book, one has to do something above and beyond what most anyone else would do, and, at least on the battlefield, it has to involve an act that could result in death.

America owes a great deal to its fallen veterans. Those are the ones who stood tall on our nation's battlefields. Some died doing heroic deeds. Others died just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But they're all heroes because they sacrificed their most precious gift, their lives. With their loss, their families have endured the pain from that date forward. They never forget those special men, and this nation should never forget them, either.

These heroes came from all nationalities and races, all faiths and from all walks of life. Most certainly weren't extraordinary in any way, except for the fact that they were all wearing our uniform in a dangerous place and did their duty when our nation called.

War is something that only those that actually served in combat will ever understand. The emotions and sacrifices are the same in all the wars. When combat soldiers hear the national anthem and taps, their hearts overflow with tears. They remember their fallen comrades, and they remember their war as though it was yesterday.

Americans need to understand what the difference is between a celebrity and a hero and start respecting our real heroes. You won't be able to meet these heroes in person, but maybe you can say a little prayer for them at their grave site and remember the freedom we enjoy isn't free. Since 1775, good men have paid the price.

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(c) 2001 David H. Hackworth
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