By Jerry Yeatts, F390000
Just when I think I have lost faith in the future of our country, a little story jolts me and prompts me to consider that perhaps things are going to be okay. I’ll tell you more about that in a bit, but first . . . . In a previous column, I requested that members share stories about loved ones who stood up for freedom. Over the past few weeks, I have received several letters from readers as a result.
Among them was a story about Gary Hagen, F242077, a medic assistant and flight crew member who enlisted in the Army and spent two years in Vietnam. He was awarded the third-highest combat military award for valor, the Silver Star medal, for his actions as he tended to 21 wounded soldiers in the midst of heavy enemy fire. To his patients and fellow crew members, he was considered a hero for protecting them through the night and keeping his patients alive.
Sir Benjamin Hendrickson, Ph.D., F35710, served in the military for 30 years, beginning with the Army Infantry at the young age of 16. He was sent to Japan after receiving flight training, with the equivalent of two combat tours, 28 combat missions, and 55 combat support missions.
Families also take pride in the generations who have served in the military. Danette DeHay, F435155, shared the story of five family members who served, starting with her grandfather in both World War I and World War II, followed by her two uncles. Most recently, Danette’s son graduated from Army Ranger school three days after 9-11, becoming a member of the Special Forces Green Berets and safely completing four tours of duty in the Middle East.
Dwight Buckland, F292872, told the story of Owen Fitz’Gerald, a man who had the vision in 2002 to dedicate a roadway in North Grenville, Ontario. You see, he had made a pilgrimage to the Fields of Honor in Normandy, France, in order to experience what his father, and many thousands like him, must have felt in 1944. Trees and plaques have been placed along this highway to remember the fallen soldiers. In 2011, formal approval was given to designate a parcel of land for the sole purpose of creating a Veterans Way Memorial Park. This memorial honors military personnel who served with Canadian, British, and American Armed forces, as well as those who continue to serve.
I have also been inspired by the snippets of American soldiers’ bravery under adverse conditions in Tom Brokaw’s book An American Story.
I have to admit, though, that as I was writing this story in my head, I thought about posing a question to you about today’s youth and those they consider heroes . . . until I came upon that little story I mentioned earlier, a news story featured on the CBS Evening News.
With permission from CBS Evening News, here is the touching story of an 8-year-old boy, a soldier, and a life changed forever.
At the Ohio Air National Guard base near Toledo, Ohio, Lt. Col. Frank Dailey still can’t believe the honor recently bestowed upon him. “It’s incredible being recognized in such a manner,” he said.
It happened at a Cracker Barrel, of all places. Dailey entered the restaurant on February 7 for an early lunch. At about the same time, 8-year-old Myles Eckert came in with his family.
Myles was very excited. He’d just found a $20 bill in the parking lot. He’d started thinking of what he could spend it on. “I kind of wanted to get a video game, but then I decided not to,” Myles said.
He changed his mind when he saw the guy in uniform. “Because he was a soldier, and soldiers remind me of my dad,” Myles explained.
And, so, with his dad in mind, Myles wrapped the $20 in a green Post-It note that read, “Dear Soldier — my dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this 20 dollars in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service. Myles Eckert, a Gold Star kid.” Myles wrapped the $20 in the note and gave it to Lt. Col. Frank Dailey.
Myles’ father, Army Sgt. Andy Eckert, was killed in Iraq, just five weeks after Myles was born. All Myles has ever had are pictures and dog tags, other people’s memories, and his own imagination. “I imagine him as a really nice person and somebody that would be really fun,” Myles said.
The dad he imagines must also love a good story. Because after lunch that day, Myles asked his mom, Tiffany, to make one more stop at the cemetery where his dad now rests. “He wanted to go see his dad,” Tiffany said. “And he wanted to go by himself that day.” From the car, Tiffany could see Myles standing there behind the flag, presumably telling his dad all about it.
Myles Eckert, 8 years old and from Toledo, Ohio, is my hero. His mother, Tiffany, deserves a great deal of credit and a huge hug for instilling upon this child what it truly means to pay it forward.
Owen Fitz’Gerald wrote, “Too often and sadly, after a war is over, some of the public, sometimes, tends to forget what terrible sacrifices were made to keep the rest of us free. Some feel that the past should be kept in the past, that we should move on. This is wrong! The past cannot be forgotten. It will be in the memory of those who served, forever. Allow me to quote Erna Paris from her book Long Shadows — Truth, Lies and History: ‘The past can only be managed, with remembrance. With accountability. With justice — however frail, however inadequate, however imperfect.’”
Lt. Col. Dailey commented that he hopes that little green Post-It note will inspire other people across the country to give — to give as sincerely and dutifully as that father and son.
Thank you, Lt. Col. Dailey, Tiffany Eckert, and most of all, Myles. And thanks to all within the FMCA family who have served or continue to serve.