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Everyday Heroes: SGT. LEROY PETRY

July 21, 2011

On July 12, 2011, I watched television coverage of President Obama awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor to Army Sergeant 1st Class Leroy Petry of New Mexico for superhuman, heroic performance while serving in Afghanistan. Sgt. Petry risked his life to save the lives of other men in his unit and was badly wounded and maimed as a result. I felt tremendous pride in Sgt. Petry and in my country.

The next day, my wife and I went to lunch at a restaurant in Albuquerque and were just starting to eat our meals when the hostess led a young couple to the table next to ours. The man was tall and erect, his hair cut “high and close.” He was marathon runner-lean and tanned. The woman was  model-perfect, with styled blond hair and rosy cheeks. They were dressed casually and were holding hands. In fact, they continued to hold hands even when the waiter came to take their orders, even when they were served their food and were eating. Ain’t young love wonderful!

We were finishing the last of our coffees when the waiter dropped off dessert menus for the couple. He told them he’d return in a minute. I noticed the man glance at the dessert menu and grimace. “Kinda expensive,” he said. The woman nodded, then said, “You won’t be able to get tiramisu in Afghanistan.”

It hit me that this guy was probably on his way back to Afghanistan for the 3rd or 4th time, putting his life and future at risk to protect our lives and futures. And here he was worried about spending eight bucks on a dessert. Hell, the tab for lunch without dessert was probably busting the couple’s budget. It also struck me that, for all intents and purposes, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq haven’t affected my life in any meaningful way. Sure, I worry about the kids fighting in those places and about the end game. But I don’t have to worry about IEDs going off, or about running out of ammo, or about unbearable heat or cold, or about rationing. I have it made, while those wars are impacting this young couple’s lives, and had impacted and will continue impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of others just like them. And when they come back home – if they come back home – they will put their uniforms away and exchange them for everyday clothes, and live in everyday houses in everyday neighborhoods, and get everyday jobs, and live everyday lives. Everyday heroes.

That young woman and man were my wife and me a lifetime ago: I was on my way to 365 days in Vietnam; my wife was on her way to 365 days of solitude and worry. We didn’t do it because we expected kudos or recognition (God knows there was little of that during that era). We did it because we felt it was our duty.

Maybe that man would become another Leroy Petry, coming close to being killed, and being badly injured. But hopefully and more likely he would do his duty, accept separation from that woman with heroic stoicism, endure deprivation and even pain with that same stoicism, return home healthy and uninjured (please, God), and transition to everyday life.

I suddenly realized why I write in my novels – – about everyday people and not about superheroes who leap tall buildings in a single bound. It is the everyday hero who rises to the occasion when the occasion demands it. It is the everyday hero who does his duty because he has no choice. We see hundreds of everyday heroes every day, and don’t recognize them.

When the waiter asked us if we were ready for our check, I whispered that I wanted him to bring the couple desserts and to put their meals on our tab. After we settled up, my wife and I walked out, holding hands. When we passed the hostess stand, she thanked us for coming in and added, “It’s cute the way you guys hold hands.”

Ain’t young love wonderful!

Joseph Badal is the author of The Pythagorean Solution, Terror CellThe Nostradamus Secret and Evil Deeds.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2011 11:35 am

    Great piece, Joe. Keep up the good work. You shouldn’t run out of subjects.

  2. Eva Thiel permalink
    August 2, 2011 9:05 pm

    Hi Joe, I love your concept and your story touched me. I have a nephew on his third tour of duty, he recently left for Afghanistan and left behind a wife and three young sons. I pray he comes back safely and for his wife and kids who have to sacrifice their father and husband for those of us at home. Yes, young love is wonderful but it’s also wonderful at our age.

    • August 3, 2011 12:24 pm

      Eva, I totally agree with you about young love. And fingers crossed for your nephew’s safe return. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Judy Balch permalink
    August 5, 2011 10:37 am

    I think you should continue your blog on everyday heros in American.

  4. September 1, 2011 9:08 pm

    I really enjoy reading about the good in our world, even though, sometimes, the not-so-good might not be too far behind. Our focus in life should be the everyday hero, and always, always keeping Love #1! Thanks for sharing~ 🙂

  5. September 1, 2011 11:23 pm

    Young and old love is grand and catching – great article.

  6. September 3, 2011 6:18 am

    Joe, your post made me tear up a little. These young men and women are fighting and devoting their lives to protecting us overseas. You are right that there are many people who do this every day right here in our country. I was very touched by your kind gesture and though I was against that war, thank you for your service and that you survived.

  7. September 7, 2011 4:22 pm

    Beautiful! My oldest son is a marine reservist and there have been those who have blessed him in ways such as this. As a mom, I thank you! GOD BLESS YOU!

    Andrea Bowling Perdue

  8. September 20, 2011 9:12 am

    I’m saying this not to nitpick, but to reinforce what you are saying about dedication. Many of these young people will come back from these wars and not be able to find an “everyday job.” The unemployment rate for returning veterans is very high. Some employers actually say they are not interested in them because they suspect the experience gave them PTSD. Can you imagine?

    • September 20, 2011 1:36 pm

      Well, that’s a shame. Those employers don’t know what they’re missing, do they? Thanks for the comment.

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