Today, on Veterans Day, I'm remembering my grandfather, Paul K. Doyle. I get my middle name from him.
Grandpa served on the USS Hamlin — a seaplane tender — in the Pacific during World War II, as well as on other ships servicing Naval aviation. He was a supply officer specializing in supplying Naval intelligence planes. He was not in combat, but he was damned close:
One night I took one of our small boats to another seaplane tender that I was responsible for as aviation supply officer. While I was gone, a kamikaze dove into the side of the ship and right through my room. My roommate was in the room at the time and was very badly hurt. The room was full of sea water and the furniture was upside down. The pictures of Judy [my mother — Ken], mother, and saucy [the dog] had been on my desk in a red leather portfolio.
We still have one of the pictures. The discoloration is from the seawater and liquor (from bottles Grandpa used for "trading purposes"):
Grandpa got the Bronze Star because he was particularly good at anticipating aviation supply shortages and finding creative solutions to them. Grandma says that if you found out, and asked him what he had done, he would say "Oh, I don't remember. Probably won it in a beer drinking contest."
Grandpa would be the last man to call himself a hero, or call himself extraordinary.
After 9/11 it's popular to refer to veterans as heroes. I think that term shortchanges them, unless we remember that heroism is about what you do and about not who you are. When extraordinary people do extraordinary things, it's not remarkable. The exploits of superheroes and the inhumanly able play out on our screens every day. But Veterans Day is a time to remember that ordinary people are capable of the extraordinary. The men and women who have served were just men and women — broken, like all of us, flawed, like all of us, afraid, like all of us. But faced with duty, they stepped up and did astounding things. They endured seas of crushing boredom dotted with islands of sheer terror. They committed acts of jaw-dropping bravery and sacrifice. They volunteered to venture into unknown territory amid danger and uncertainty. They served quietly in supportive roles essential to the things that get on the news. They did those things without superpowers and without magic and without the uncanny abilities or luck of our on-screen heroes. They did them with only the natural gifts that you and I have, and with skills borne of hard work and training — borne of service. They demonstrated by example what we can do if we are willing to commit ourselves to a cause.
Today, we should thank veterans for their service. But we should also thank them for their example.
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