I grew up on amazing stories of how the roads got wound into tight knots around my house and lost brides became ghosts. Later, the fairy tales were replaced with war stories of incredible bravery and survival. There were dozens of stories. In these stories, enemy fire landed beside him and didn’t go off or in the place behind him after he left.
Entire teams of guys were killed, and he was the only survivor…multiple times. They were his mates, his buddies, his family. But he had a family back home to get home to too; a wife and three young sons were praying for him. Back then, there was no internet, video chatting, or other instant forms of communication. They wrote letters.
Every time God saved him was a confirmation that there was something more in store for him. After multiple tours, multiple dangers, and multiple saves, he finally returned home. Then he was assigned to a base in Colorado. There his eldest son met the love of his life and married her. He finally retired and moved back to Carolina. Not long after, his newly married son and daughter-in-law had me.
The bulk of my childhood was spent going back and forth between Colorado and Carolina. We spent three days on the road just getting from one state to the other. Instead of theme parks and vacation spots, our summers were dedicated to family. I didn’t mind. For me, nothing could be better than grandmama’s house, curling up in granddaddy’s lap, and hearing his stories.
We were spoiled on local pickles, french fries, and Southern-style barbecue. We dug our toes into the sands of Topsail Beach, went shopping, and stayed up late watching movies. And every year, about this time, I realize it all would not have happened if he hadn’t made it back home alive.
Ernest Whitman is not ashamed of his service; he wears it proudly. He doesn’t hide his stories. Ask him about anything, and he will tell you. Not every veteran came home so freely…especially from Vietnam. Nor were they welcomed as they should have been. But in my family, he is and always will be a hero. To many of those who served with him as well as to the new soldiers fighting in his regiment, he is a hero too. We are proud of him.
Today is not just another day out of work. It’s not a great day for shopping or grilling or beaching it. First, show some respect for the men and women who gave their lives to ensure those freedoms for you. Then, throw an extra hot dog on the grill and enjoy it.
You are blessed beyond measure to be an American and to be free.