Like so many of the men back then, he had been to Vietnam and come back not quite in one piece.
We didn’t talk about Wounded Warrior recovery programs, counseling or even much about assisting veterans in those years. The Army just told them to buck up, stand tall and do their duty.
So that’s exactly what they did.
I don’t remember the first time our families met. He used to tell me I chewed on the laces of his combat boots when I was just a baby. Although that certainly could have happened, I just can’t remember that far back.
I remember the snow of a Kansas blizzard and then us coming “home” to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
There, he spent much of his time on what was called General’s Row, driving the “big brass” as my father learned the medical trade in one of the first classes of physician assistants there at Sam.
Everyone knew who he was on post, regardless of rank. He was the GI who did far, far more than most in ‘Nam and had somehow made it back home alive.
And while that meant more than a little respect there, it was a time when soldiers weren’t all that popular elsewhere. The others – civilians – certainly didn’t stand on street corners, wave flags and cheer back then.
The soldiers were men who were, most definitely, not in touch with their inner feelings or metro-sexual side.
Soldiers drank, smoked, shouted, cussed, told inappropriate jokes and, without a doubt, served their nation. They fought for their country and then listened to the jeers of those who stayed behind.
He was far from perfect, but then people didn’t really believe those sorts of people existed outside of the comic books and TV westerns.
Back then, he wore a purple heart, the same recognition given to so many who had face the bullets and the pain. A few years later, the Army said he deserved far more recognition than that.
Among the millions of men and women who have served in the Armed Forces, only about 3,500 have been presented the Medal of Honor – far less than 1 percent. Master Sgt. Roy Benavidez of El Campo paid a price in blood and pain to wear one, although I doubt he was thinking about medals when he boarded a helicopter in 1968.
You don’t get a Medal of Honor for being popular or because you simply served in combat. It’s for those who step up and then somehow go even beyond the title of hero.
Civilians, unlike soldiers in combat, rarely go into a situation knowing there’s a really good chance they won’t come back – even our law enforcement officers, despite the danger of their profession, generally anticipate making it through the shift.
I’m an Army brat raised to understand what those medals on a man’s chest or draped around his neck represent (and, yes, I do know women serve in the military too, but the soldiers coming back from that war all seemed to be men when I was a child).
When you ask whether a building should be named after “the way it’s always been” or the name of one of those men who even the heroes looked up to, to me, the answer is easy.
But we use so many generic terms now, because, after all, everyone is a winner right? We give kids trophies for participation.
They don’t learn until they hit the “real world” that you don’t get a gold star for trying to do your job, bosses expect you to get it done.
And the workers who simply get it done? They are the ones who never get a raise, never get promoted.
All soldiers are not equal either, even when they give their lives for the cause. Ask a soldier to explain that to you (if you can get them to stop worrying about political correctness and whether they offend someone).
And, think about the decision the El Campo school board is going to make on Nov. 19. Should they cling to the name “because we always done it that a’way” or remember one man’s sacrifices?
If we don’t want a single person’s name on a school because it recognizes just that one person, shouldn’t we then immediately rename Hutchins and Myatt elementaries to generic terms too? After all, they were named after single individuals and we’re all winners right?