This year the Fourth of July has gotten me thinking. About heroism. Heroes. I’m not talking about the “super-heroes” of Hollywood, although they have done much to cheapen our image of what a hero really is.
As a kid, I know what I thought a hero looked like. John Wayne, the tough soldier that can take anything and always wins. Confident, unshakeable in the face of danger. Defiant.
It’s taken me years to realize that there’s another type of hero in this world, more genuine and real than anything Hollywood has created: the survivor. The men and women of our armed forces who have survived the hell of war.
They’re all around us, moving largely unnoticed through a society where ever fewer citizens have worn the uniform: the man in the corner at the nursing home, a U.S. flag pin on his shirt and an 82nd Airborne ball cap on his head. The family that lowers two flags every sunset—the Stars and Stripes and the black flag of loss and grief: POW-MIA. And the young clerk at the hardware store whose eyes have seen too much, old before his time.
For many of these, the survivors, the struggle for survival continues—and we as a country have forgotten how much courage is required just to survive. How much heroism it takes to go on living when every firework on the Fourth of July sounds just like an incoming mortar, when every abandoned backpack looks like an IED, when every high-rise looks like a sniper’s nest. Those who have been there know what I’m talking about: the flashbacks, the nightmares that we neatly title PTSD in this, our acronym-crazy world. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Those of us who have never heard shots fired in anger will never be able to fully understand the trauma these brave men and women face on a daily basis, but it is our duty to try. If they cannot turn to us, their families and countrymen, to whom can they turn? After all, Dear Abby’s never been within a hundred klicks of a warzone.
I met one of these heroes this past week. His name’s Michael Piro. He served two tours in Iraq, but the cost of the war is still with he and his family. Mike runs a blog called www.ptsdsurvivordaily.com where he talks about some of what he’s been through, some of the horror he’s seen, in hopes of helping not only himself, but others who have seen the same.
Mike asked me to look over his blog, to offer any constructive criticism on how to make the site better. In the end, I couldn’t. From the time I started reading to the moment I stopped, I was blown away by one thing. The unbelievable courage it would take to openly confront your fears in such a way. It’s a courage I can’t even fathom having.
It’s long past time to remember that Michael Piro is just one of thousands. They fought our battles for us, now they need nothing more than for us to stand with them in this time. So, this weekend, take time away from the picnics and the barbecues. Reach out to a wounded warrior. It’s your duty. Fulfill it with honor.
And wherever you are this weekend, Mike, I want you to know that my prayers are with you. That you’ll be safe. That you and your family will be able to enjoy the Fourth of July.