Hometown Hero

There have been several stories recently of soldiers who have told lavish stories about deployments and honors/medals they received for their service. They have been regarded as hometown heroes. As time passes and their accolades become bigger and the truth surfaces. These deployments and reasons for honor never occurred. They have tarnished the uniform and made up a story to gain some fame and glory. Unfortunately, this happens and it casts a shadow on those who humbly serve our country without any flashy recognition.

Definition of HERO from Merriam-Webster

a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability

b : an illustrious warrior

c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities

d : one who shows great courage

I am sure we all have figures (real or not) who pop in our minds ranging from Superman to our own parents that fit this definition. I wanted to share a real story of one particular soldier. He shows how our soldiers not only fight for our freedoms across the seas, but they do so much stateside to inspire and encourage their fellow man. This soldier shows us the “noble” qualities and illustrates what a warrior can be on a normal day. It is just one example of the stories that go untold but do show how human our soldiers are and that at the core they believe in fighting battles every day to pursue dreams. They may seem like heroes for what they do on deployment, but they also show heroic characteristics and give great strength to those they leave behind. This is a true hometown hero.

This particular story is told from the perspective of a mom of a nine year old boy who has always dreamed of being in the United States Army.
Last Halloween TJ decided he wanted to be an “army guy.” Ever since TJ was able to speak, he has talked of being in the army. Over the past few years, we’ve had an abundance of army decorations, parties, clothing and hundreds (literally) of army toys and figurines. It was no surprise to us when he said he wanted to dress up as what he considers to be the ultimate hero. We went online and as we were looking at costumes, he suddenly got up from the table. He seemed upset and as he walked away, he said “I don’t want a costume now.” I followed him and when I asked him why, he said that it was because he gets too tired to walk around the neighborhood. It broke my heart that something as simple as trick-or-treating was a monumental effort for my son. When other children run around the neighborhood and bound up stairs to homes, my son will usually skip the houses with stairs (which are most) since he knows he can’t reach the door without help. I reminded TJ that we had his new wheelchair (which is army green by the way) and I would push him from house to house when he got too tired to walk. His reply was “No, Mom. Army guys aren’t in wheelchairs.” That was one of those times as a parent, you have to dig deeper than you ever thought possible for that positive attitude, put on a smile and try to come up with a worthy response. I dug deep but hit rock bottom and still had no words of wisdom to give my son. I simply let the subject lie for the time being. He needed to feel and I needed a game plan.I prayed for God to help us guide TJ. Do I push him to accept the wheelchair or do I let him miss out on Halloween? What is the right thing to do? Is there a right thing to do? That night I decided his wheelchair was somehow going to become part of his costume. If we made it cool enough, he’d want to use it. I decided one way or another we were going to make his wheelchair into an army tank. I had no idea how, but Craig and I started planning. My plans started by using a few boxes and a couple cans of spray paint. My husband decided that wasn’t quite enough so before I knew it, wood glue, 2x4s, screws, duct tape and paint (along with crude blueprints) became the new “plan.” When we told TJ our idea he was excited and trick-or-treating was back on our agenda. “The tank” became the new family project.TJ loved Halloween. He went to more houses, stayed out later and (most-importantly) acquired more treats than ever before. After posting the boys Halloween pictures, a teacher at TJ’s school emailed the picture of TJ in his “tank” to her brother, Tom, who was serving in Afghanistan. TJ decided to draw a picture and write a letter to Tom. Since Tom couldn’t receive physical mail, I scanned it and emailed it to him. He responded to TJ and answered his questions and shared more pictures of himself and others serving with him. TJ was thrilled because he officially had an army buddy. TJ was enthralled with the pictures and he was so impressed seeing first-hand what he has always dreamt of becoming. Upon Tom’s safe return home to the states, he visited TJ’s school. He brought pizza for TJ (making TJ a semi-star with his school buddies). He also asked to come to our house one Saturday and visit with TJ. After being away from his wife, family, dog, friends and home for over a year, Tom would have been more than justified to take some time and decompress or take a vacation. Instead, he decided to make that trip and talk to en entire elementary school and pay extra attention to my son….my soldier. Tom was simply doing what he thought in his heart was the right thing to do. By doing so, he was instrumental in helping TJ maintain his hopes and dreams. He helped a 9-year old see that physical abilities don’t limit us – it’s our heart, our drive and our mental state that sets our limitations to life. As we all see the years pass, we realize that we might not be exactly what we planned to be when we were young. Our dreams are either a memory or, if we are lucky, they are slightly skewed from the original goal. This will not be any different for TJ. His dreams will change and adapt just like everyone. Life will always throw us road blocks. But, it’s how we handle those road blocks that make us who we are. We always have to keep dreaming and setting goals. Tom spoke of men and women who served our country that couldn’t walk. He spoke of men and women that might not have the bodies for serving front line, but have the heart to help those that do put their lives on the line for us. He made sure TJ realized that everyone is instrumental in the big picture. Everyone has significant abilities.The majority of his visit, Tom simply sat down and just played with TJ. He listened and talked to both of our boys. He showed them pictures and patiently answered any and all questions two young boys would have about the life of a soldier (and there were plenty). Tom then became a superstar when he showed the boys how to clear a room. (That was definitely one of the highlights!) Before Tom left our home, he said he had a few things for TJ. He gave TJ one of his medals, a boonie hat, his flashlight, a 50 cal shell casing and a 101st airborne patch. Each and every one of those items has a place of pride on TJ’s dresser. Anyone that goes in his room is required to see them.A man that we hardly know has earned a place in our hearts forever. He unwittingly took serving his fellow man to a new level. In turn he became a hero in the flesh to a 9-year old who needed to dream big. There wasn’t anything flashy or showy. There was no press to highlight his selflessness.
Thank you Tom and all of our service men and women who continue to be inspiration humbly camouflaged.
I am fortunate enough to know this particular soldier. A man whose childhood dream, much like T.J., was to be in the Army. There are pictures still around that he drew as a kid depicting himself in a military uniform. Ever since I have known him, he spoke of dreams of following in his grandpa’s military footsteps. He was fortunate to fulfill this dream and fight for our nation, but also have the opportunity to outreach to young men like T.J. He has never wanted the limelight for this experience with T.J. He has always said, “T.J. is a good kid, and I like hanging out with him.” He is just doing what he thinks is right and wanted a young man to remember to never give up and to always fight for what you believe in. This wasn’t an event to be big and flashy, and he didn’t have to wear his uniform or be in a tank to have such a heroic impact. His intent was never to have status himself, and he always made it about the boys. He was just being himself and playing with some kids on a Saturday afternoon.
But that is not where this story of heroism ends for me.
I believe that this family fits the definition of heroes. They have a unifying love that is shown in their support for one another. They have been able to foster their children’s dreams despite circumstances, and one may say because of their circumstances. They have such faith and belief to make each day worthwhile. They have provided a space for their boys to mature into strong, humble, gracious, and encouraging individuals. As we begin to think about starting our own family, I can only hope that we are able to pass down some of these same qualities. They have been role models to show how a family should be there for each other. They are hometown heroes.
We have to remember and be thankful that we get to live out our dreams no matter what our circumstances may be. Things may not go the way that you planned and your dreams may change, but that’s ok. I mean seriously, I wanted to be a choreographer and/or an elephant trainer when I was a kid. So You Think You Can Dance and the Ringling Brothers haven’t knocked on my door recently, but I am still loving my life. Give life a chance, and it may be better than you could have imagined. And it’s still good to have big dreams. They make life fun! Someday I may have that elephant you never know! For now I will settle for a bathroom homage to the animal.
Every day you need to be “humbly camouflaged” and be willing to give back. Thank God for what you are given and show selfless love. He gives you gifts and opportunities to make and fulfill dreams (maybe your own and maybe others). You never know when you may have the chance to help someone fulfill their own aspirations. For me, that can be just as satisfying, if not more. (I must sound unbearably repetitive with this message; you can go to probably ever other post for my soap box rants about service…Sorry folks…)

You don’t have to fake your way to heroism. And I am sure it doesn’t help enrich the lives around you. The stories of these soldiers who cling to fabricated stories, are just sad. It minimizes the time they did spend serving our country justly and honorably. They have wasted an experience and a shot at true greatness for a few seconds of fame. You can be a respected hero without a medal or patch that says so. So choose your actions wisely.

Truth be told, there are many stories that will never be told publicly of what our soldiers do. They are much more than the uniform they put on. They are much more than the guns and tanks we associate them with. They aren’t all anger filled machines. Most are selfless and reserved with their actions, and are just doing what they believe to be true and just. They are giving back to their communities in many ways that are often never recognized. And for that they will always be heroes.
We may never have met this family without the Army theme uniting us. We will forever be impacted by T.J. and his remarkable family. The magnitude of that impact will only be told with time, but I am sure that this is only the beginning of how our families have been intertwined.
If you want to hear more about T.J. and what a courageous young man he is and the experiences he and his family have please visit T.J’s Triumph. I think it is safe to say he is a textbook hero already at 9 years old. We have a lot of living up to do!
My craft spotlight is this family’s ingenuity with some cardboard, duct tape, spray paint, love and persistence. I always loved homemade costumes! And look at this smile!

7 thoughts on “Hometown Hero

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