I was coming down the steps at home a couple weeks ago and paused to look at the pictures of my father hanging on the wall.

Hard to believe he’s been gone 36 years.

There was a shadow box with a picture of he and I that was taken on one my birthdays. I was holding the baseball bat he and Mom had bought me, sporting a black eye from the time a few days earlier when I heroically stopped a friend’s fist with my face.

I was looking at his medals, including a Purple Heart for being wounded in battle. As we near Veterans Day, it makes me proud to know my father did his part to serve the country.

He served during World War II, fighting in the Philippine Islands.

A bullet grazed his chest, centimeters from taking his life, and erasing his life and all those who followed.

My brother and I would not have been born. My other siblings would not have had the stepfather who became Dad.

Life is funny that way.

I have tried to piece together the father I knew and the man who carried a gun and fought in a war.

Hard to reconcile both because my father was a gentle soul who I do not remember ever placing a hand on my backside, and it wasn’t because I never acted up. It just wasn’t who he was.

But war, that had to be different.

He never talked much about it, admitting only that he returned fire during combat. If he ever killed anyone, he wasn’t telling his son.

That is what happens during war, shot or be shot, and he was defending those he fought with; he was defending his country.

Whenever I hear the National Anthem I cannot help but think of my father telling me how beautiful the flag looked when he saw it during battle.

It must have given him a sense of pride and made him feel a little closer to home.

Sometimes we do not appreciate the basic rights and freedoms we have until they are taken away.

I’m sure my father thought about home every day as he trudged around a foreign land, praying to get back in one piece.

I’m sure my father thought about how close he came to death while he lied in an Army hospital bed recovering from his wound.

I’m sure my father was emotional when he landed back on U.S. soil, far away from the war.

I’m sure my father would do it all over again.

There are thousands upons thousands of men and women just like my dad, who did what they had to do in the name of country.

They came home, went to work, raised families and lived their lives, rarely letting on what they went through.

They are the real heroes, and this Veterans Day we salute them.

 

Patrick Murphy, editor-publisher of the Humphrey Democrat and Newman Grove Reporter in Nebraska, is a former assistant managing editor of The Telegram.