The word “hero” gets tossed around nowadays like a Frisbee at a family picnic. It has lost its meaning.
Every veteran, every police officer and firefighter – all heroes.
They are not. I’ve worn three uniforms over my lifetime: Marine, big-city street cop, United Nations police officer in Bosnia…and I’m no hero. I always did my duty, and occasionally some of the things I did might be worthy of a sloppy salute, but real heroes are a billion dollars a dozen.
John Glenn was a hero. He set the benchmark for the word.
A Marine fighter pilot in WWII and Korea, first American to orbit the Earth, a U.S. senator for 25 years, an astronaut encore at age 77.
When Glenn circled the planet in 1962 and it appeared his damaged craft might disintegrate during re-entry, the first readable transmission after the radio blackout was Mr. Glenn humming “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Who the hell has that kind of courage, that casual aplomb in the face of losing his very existence?
Only a hero.
Unless you begin the conversation with a name like his, don’t talk to me about heroes.
Heroes are hard to come by. But when we do come by one, they are worth celebrating.
When someone says “Happy Veterans Day” to those who served, they often flash back to a moment when they almost bought the farm. And then they contemplate what a subtle line exists between coming home carrying a seabag — or being carried home in a flag-draped coffin.
I was in uniform the day death stopped to look me over, but it wasn’t the one I’d worn in the Marine Reserves 30 years earlier. It was the uniform of the United Nations, topped with a jaunty blue beret…the one we sported in Bosnia as members of the International Police Task Force. The IPTF, composed of police officers from 42 nations, was there to help enforce the Dayton Peace Accords.
Someone had gone through my files, saw I’d been a jarhead and a journalist before joining the Phoenix PD, and summoned me to Sarajevo for a job interview. On September 16, 1997, I sat down in a closet-size office with a Florida cop named Marvin Padgett. We got along beautifully, and two hours later he told me I was hired. I would be the liaison between the IPTF and NATO.
Marvin then called a German police colonel and his young aide into the office to approve his choice. The four of us sat almost knee-to-knee in the tiny room, and after just minutes the colonel said, “Okay, you’re hired! Tomorrow we are flying to several villages and I want you to come along.”
I politely declined, saying all my gear was in Mostar and I wanted to retrieve it before reporting for duty. The colonel said I could get my gear after the tour. But I insisted. I
wanted to return to Mostar that night.
No one in the office was happy with my decision.
Sixteen hours later their Russian MI-8 helicopter ran into heavy fog — and then it ran into a mountain. Every passenger perished in the fireball. Of the four men smiling and talking in that tiny office the previous afternoon, I was the only one still alive.
I’ve always wondered why I was so insistent on returning to Mostar. Now I think I know: The ultimate Commander-in-Chief, God, has a mission for each of us. And he allows us to live until we complete it.
Happy Veterans Day to all who survived – and all the heroes who didn’t.
All of us awoke one day to find ourselves bound to a magnificent blue ball spinning through space on a journey to nowhere.
Once you come to grips with the miracle and mystery of that, you have to believe almost anything is possible: People or something like them living on other planets, extra sensory perception, the innate goodness of man, a balanced budget…
You scoff? You lie. We all want to believe in ghosts for a simple, undeniable reason: If there are ghosts there is a hereafter. And if there is a hereafter, this life we so love on our spinning blue ball is not all there is. Life will go on.
Well, you can rest easy. Ghosts are real.
I believe it – no, I know it – because a close friend recently told me of more than 20 encounters with the same elderly female ghost in his previous house. The first time, in broad daylight, she strolled past him in the kitchen, walked down a hallway and went into a bedroom.
Thinking she was a befuddled neighbor, he entered the room moments later and found only his wife and daughters inside. After that he usually saw her in his living room, sitting in the same chair and staring straight ahead at God knows what. She would not speak to him, and when he got too close she simply disappeared.
This friend with the ghost story is no ordinary person. Jeff made a name for himself in Army intelligence, intercepting and breaking encrypted messages during
The Cold War. He scored so high on the Army’s entrance test he was accused of cheating. When they made him take a different test under close supervision he scored even higher.
Years later and in a different uniform, he was the best police officer I ever supervised or served beside. He doesn’t swear, drink, smoke or do drugs. He neither exaggerates or embellishes a story. And most important – he never lies.
Ghosts are real.
But my belief is they are not humans in another form. They are the work of Satan, The Great Liar, conjured up to convince us life after death is not a glorious reunion with Jesus. No, says Satan, it is sitting in a chair in your old house, scaring the timid and staring out at God knows what.
Nothing is more painful for a man than to admit he was the victim of female sexual assault, but I can remain silent no longer: In 1980 on an airliner somewhere over Arkansas, I was forcibly groped by the current Democratic nominee for president.
Traveling in my police uniform on official business, I’d been bumped to first class in Atlanta by a kindly desk agent who said her son was also a cop. An hour later we briefly stopped in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a woman in her early 30s took the empty seat next to mine.
I quickly introduced myself, but she hesitated before replying: “I’m, ahh, Pillory,” she said. “Pillory Minton.” The nightmare had begun…
I fell asleep immediately after takeoff – only to be jolted awake sometime later by a violent tugging on my…well, that private and sacred organ beneath my belt buckle. I think you know what I mean.
Pillory, wild-eyed and sweating, had covered us with a blanket and was muttering “Hot-diggety-dog, hot-diggety-dog!” as she went vigorously about her sordid business.
“What the hell are you doing?” I managed. “Shut up, big boy!” she hissed. “I love a man in uniform and I just can’t help myself!”
Bewildered, confused, I refastened my zipper, flung the blanket aside and stumbled from first class in search of a flight attendant.
“You don’t look well, sir. Are you all right?”
“That woman next to me, Pillory Minton, she just…”
“Oh, you mean Hillary Clinton, the First Lady of Arkansas. She’s the governor’s wife.”
Oh, what to do, what to do? Who were they going to believe – an ordinary cop or the First Lady of Arkansas? Trembling, traumatized, I took a seat in coach for the rest of the flight.
When we deplaned in Miami, Hillary Clinton caught my eye, put a finger to her lips, then passed the finger over her throat in a cutting motion.