My life has been filled with heroes. My own father was a giant of a man who understood that fathers and mothers are the most important forces in their children's lives. And when I married my knight-in-shining armor 20 years ago, God blessed me with another hero: my father-in-law.
Papa John quickly became an important part of my life. As I grew to know and love him and my mother-in-law over the years, it was quite evident why my husband is a man of strong character and selfless love.
This week, our dear Papa John died. But although I grieve that I no longer will be able to hear his gentle voice on the phone, or see the glimmer in his eye, or watch his warm embrace of my husband and our children, I am so blessed in having learned from this great champion of faith, family and freedom.
What follows is an excerpt from my newly released book, Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad. With Mother's Day and Father's Day around the corner, I hope you will consider purchasing the book for a parent who might need to be reminded of the importance of teaching our kids about real heroes, and that very often, those heroes are in our own families.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I took his parents and our kids to the Fantasy of Flight Museum, a private collection in Polk City, Florida, boasting what may be the world?s largest assemblage of airworthy vintage aircraft. Andy and I felt the trip would bring a better understanding of what Papa John, a World War II vet, and the ?Greatest Generation? went through to protect America?s freedom some years ago.
Papa John wore his best poker face as he climbed carefully through the bomb-bay doors and into the fuselage, his grandsons scrambling in close behind. But it had to have been an emotional moment for him. During World War II, he served with the 450th bomb group, as a nose gunner in a B-24 Liberator, making runs from Italy into southern Europe. Unlike many, he returned to wed, raise a family, and see his kids raise families of their own.
Even with its bomb racks empty, the bomb bay was surprisingly cramped. Between the racks, the only way forward to the flight deck and to Papa John?s former battle station was a narrow girder, not even wide enough to be called a catwalk. Negotiating that, then hunching down, and finally crawling forward, Papa John advanced as far toward the nose turret as his now-creaky knees would let him, just far enough to brush aside a patch of spider webs and peer inside through its double hatch.
He had certainly had a good view from that position, as far forward as one could possibly be in an airplane, with only a bubble of a Plexiglas between him and the frigid, onrushing air. How had he folded himself, his parachute, and other gear into that tiny space? How could he stay in that position for up to eight hours? How did it feel to be shot at the first time? What did it feel like to climb back in for a second mission? A third? And what did you do to expel the thought that the next mission might be your last?
True to form, Papa John was a fount of knowledge about all things technical. He pointed out the dials and knobs and handles, explained their purpose and how they worked. Those things seemed to come back pretty easily. But how it all felt was more difficult to put into words, maybe even to remember.
As with most of those who made it back, there has rarely been an appropriate moment to share details of those days. Even if the moment presented itself, the story is not an easy one to tell. How does one present the full context of the experience? Wanting above all to be accurate, how does one weave a complete and coherent story out of a collection of memories, some vivid and some vague, particularly when you never knew the whole story anyway? And how do you tell your story knowing that it is only a very small part of a very large undertaking? So, more often than not, their stories go untold.
The silence is part of what makes Papa John -- and so many like him in the Greatest Generation -- so great. It is our duty, not theirs, to collect and preserve their story. That is why it?s good to build museums, write books, and produce documentary films. It?s right to recognize their sacrifice. That is the reason we establish memorial days and create memorial monuments in Washington and in hometowns across America. And it?s right to thank them by stepping forward to take up the banner of service they carried so faithfully, and by working to restore an America of virtue and strong moral values.