Monday, May 25, 2015

Hero Without a Uniform

As we celebrate Memorial Day and remember the heroes who have made possible our freedom, I wanted to post something I wrote a few years ago about my dad:

"A few years ago, as I attended a tribute to our local veterans, I noticed with surprise that my father, Charlie Martin, was listed as one of the deceased veterans. In reality, Dad never served in the military, and I felt a little embarrassed that he was listed with all the men who have served our country through the years.

Following that tribute, a number of people mentioned Dad’s military service to me, and as I found myself explaining the situation, I realized that my dad was indeed a hero, even though he never wore a military uniform.

During World War II, many of the young men in Petersburg were headed for the military because their country needed them. My dad was no exception. Like many, he was undoubtedly torn by the desire to serve and the need to stay home to care for my mom and sister. But he wanted to do his duty, and had enlisted in the Navy. In fact, he had already taken his physical exam and was ready to go.

At that time, my dad was not only the sole school bus driver for students who lived on the farms surrounding Petersburg, but he was also the bus mechanic. He kept the old bus in good working order in spite of the difficulty of getting parts and supplies in wartime. And he took his job very seriously, making sure the bus was roadworthy, and taking care to get the children back and forth safely.

Dad was so conscientious that he even risked losing his job one day rather than put the school children in harm’s way.  A very serious blizzard blew into the area quite unexpectedly soon after school convened that winter day. Dad asked permission to take the children back home before the storm worsened, but was told that there was no need. As the day wore on, it became apparent that the roads were becoming too treacherous for travel. Finally, around noon, they asked Dad to start loading the kids and take them home ~ but he refused. He had checked out the roads and knew that to venture out was too dangerous. Conditions had become so difficult that the parents could not even get to town to retrieve their own children. So the kiddos had to bed down in the schoolhouse for the night. Dad probably was not too popular with the schoolmaster that day, but took his responsibilities for the safety of the children too seriously to venture out into the storm.

During the wartime climate of World War II, when the superintendent of the Petersburg schools and the school board learned that Dad was headed for military service, they intervened. They contacted the draft board and made an appeal for Dad to be released from his commitment in order to keep the Petersburg bus routes open and the bus running. I think Dad was always a little embarrassed that he had been kept home, and may have felt that his contribution was insignificant.

But regardless of whether he served his country in the military or not, he still died a hero because of how he served his community and his country, being faithful in the everyday things he was called to do. Many others, for one reason or another, did not serve in the military because their presence was needed on the homefront. 

The speaker at the Veterans Ceremony that day expressed it well when she said that there were soldiers who did not serve in combat and who may not have considered their service to be significant. But she explained that it is a team effort. Every person does what they are called to do, working together toward a goal, and it takes teamwork to get the job done whether a person is on the front lines or not. Some of us have not accomplished the "big" things that are known and celebrated, but what we do for the good of those around us still matters.

So the rest, as they say, is history. Who knows . . . if Charlie Martin had indeed served in the military and died, I would not be here today to tell his story . . . and to remind us all that a military uniform alone is not what makes a hero."
My sister with my dad in his later years.

copyright 2008