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Baxter Black

We were watching The History Channel at Grandma’s casita. It was a story about the USS Enterprise being attacked. It was 1945. They were describing acts of heroism that occurred. Stories of men risking their lives, staying with wounded comrades instead of swimming to safety. Stories that never made the paper or were recognized but were remembered only by those brave souls who dog-paddled in the waves next to a burning ship 3 miles above the sea floor.

It was one of those moments where my son and I were engrossed. I said, “Isn’t it funny, the only person in this house who really understands what we’re watching, is asleep in his chair.” Grandpa Tommy. Kansas farm boy, Junior Petty Officer on a rebuilt WWI destroyer, 3 years, 3 months, 21 days operating as troop ship on the Pacific ocean, docking only twice in ports other than atoll island landings.

Now asleep in his chair, 89 years old. He has no scrapbook of his service, no contact with those of his caliber who went through the cauldron of war, no medals or pins commemorating his contribution. The only souvenir I’m aware of is his “coconut knife” US Navy issue, which he gave to his grandson. When the subject of war comes up his light-hearted response is, “I saved the world.”

It’s his joke. It comes and goes so quickly. The subject changes and the opportunity to ponder his answer disappears. Which is unfortunate, because he, and countless thousands of others did save the world. Anyone who doubts that Germany and Japan had intentions of conquering us all, is deluding themself. Seldom has freedom and slavery or good and evil been so clearly defined. But at the time America reluctantly joined the Allied Forces in 1942, it was not so clear; there were many doubters.

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Elected leaders make decisions of enormous consequence. They put the wheels of war, peace, conflict and resolution into motion. Korea, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Iran…China?

Elected leaders ride into battle, voices loud, sabers rattling and flash bulbs popping, on the backs of men like Grandpa Tommy who answer the call and if they are lucky, come home to the welcoming arms of a thankful country.

Political leaders are honored on President’s Day. Grandpa Tommy is honored on Flag Day, July 4, December 7, Memorial Day, and, I guess, every day that I draw a free breath. I’m proud and I’m gonna tell him I appreciate that he saved the world…soon as he wakes up.

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