Ordinary people who did extraordinary things

There are heroes among us.

They are ordinary people, living ordinary lives – who did extraordinary things that many might not even realize.

I have this revelation each and every Veterans Day.

About 14 years ago, I covered the annual Slum Feed here in York on Veterans Day. The featured speaker was then-state senator Greg Adams.

He said something which has resonated with me since.

I remembered quoting him in a story that day – so I went back to find the piece from 2009, in order to share his statement.

Adams said to the veterans in attendance, “I’m reminded of many long conversations I had with my father-in-law. We usually talked about three topics – what we were messing up next in Lincoln, farming . . . or his military service in World War II. What most impressed me wasn’t what he did while he was in the Philippines, as extraordinary as it was, but here was a guy, just like all of you, who before he ever left, was a farmer, a brick-layer. He was an ordinary person. I am looking at a room full of ordinary people. The difference is this. A key component of America’s fabric is that we have ordinary people who are willing to do extraordinary things. That’s what he did, that’s what all of you did. We have a country full of ordinary people willing to do extraordinary things. I am looking at a room of people who did that. For that, I am grateful and this country is grateful.”

What a powerful statement – one that is so incredibly true.

When we read local obituaries, as individuals’ life stories are told, we find that sometimes the “average” man or woman was actually a national treasure whose courage was mind boggling. They just went about their lives, among the rest of us, as ordinary, quiet individuals — but they were also veterans with heroic pasts which most people didn’t even know about.

There was the small town businessman who had served directly with Patton.

The guy who raised production crops – who was involved with the landing at Casablanca during Operation Torch. His life story also included that his division “landed in Normandy on June 9, 1044, and secured the areas from Normandy to Cherbourg and Brest. The Division was at the Roer River when the 2nd fought the German Fifth Panzer Army in the Battle of the Bulge.”

The woman who was known as a longtime school teacher and organ player for the choir – who had also left everything to be a military nurse right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The corn farmer who had once stood guard over Nazi officers during the Nuremberg Trials.

The veterinarian who had served in the North Atlantic Theater logging more than 3,000 hours of anti-submarine surveillance and air/sea rescue missions.

The grandpa who cleaned businesses in a small town . . . who also froze and nearly lost his feet after carrying a wounded comrade in World War II.

The implement salesman who was a decorated B-17 and B-29 pilot.

The member of the co-op board who had flown missions over northern Italy, Germany and Austria, bombing primarily oil refineries.

The carpenter who had flown fighter planes over Germany and Belgium.

The Sunday School teacher and 4-H leader who had been a “supervisory inspector of radio crystals” for the department of defense.

The dairy farmer who had helped build the ammunition bunkers in the Hastings area during World War II.

The land developer who had been awarded campaign medals for combat actions.

The railroad worker who had been a gunner in the Armed Guard in the Pacific.

The land leveler who installed radar jamming equipment in bombers during World War II.

The dry cleaner who had been a Seabee and participated in numerous island landings in the Pacific.

The nursing assistant who had been an official messenger, delivering top secret messages during World War II.

The mechanic who had been a prisoner of war in Germany.

The insurance agent who knew how to repair a B-26 bomber.

There have been thousands upon thousands of superheroes – those who have passed on and those still with us.

They stand next to us at the check-out lane in the grocery store. They sing in the church choir. They taught us English, fixed our cars, made us doughnuts. They drove the school bus, butchered our meat, fixed our roads and volunteered on the fire department.

And they also saved our world.

We have been and continue to be surrounded by superstars – also known as veterans – who gave us our freedom through their own sacrifices.

They perform and performed superhuman feats – some didn’t make it home. The ones who did quietly joined the rest of society and humbly went about everyday living.

Former Senator Adams was right – these are and were ordinary people who did extraordinary things.


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