A confluence of events has caused me to reflect on this question. The first is the posting on social media by a very dear friend of photos of soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, policemen, and firefighters who have died in the performance of their duties. The second was a speech given this past Monday at the weekly luncheon at Aggie Park in San Antonio by the Fifth Army North Commander, LTG Jeffrey S. Buchanan, where he addressed this very question. Third is the upcoming gathering of Texas A&M University alumni to honor those Aggies who have died this past year. And last, though I don’t have an exact release date, is the publication of my most recent book, Tarnished Brass, and my inclusion of a section entitled “In Memoriam.”
The social media postings honor individuals who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. Their photos are poignant reminders that service to country, whether in the Armed Forces, Law Enforcement, or as Firefighters often comes at a very high cost. These men and women are the very embodiment of heroism. Their conduct reflects great courage, superior character and integrity in a noble cause greater than self, and it cost them their lives.
In his own way General Buchanan echoed these sentiments by relating the story of a subordinate officer who served with the general in various assignments throughout his career including multiple deployments in Iraq where he was severely injured by an IED, and in Afghanistan where he lost his life. The general wears a wrist band in his memory.
The Muster tradition, an annual gathering of fellow Texas Aggies that dates back to 1883, has evolved over the years from just celebrating college memories to honoring those Aggies no longer able to attend the ceremony due to their passing. Normally held on April 21st in remembrance of Texas Independence and San Jacinto Day, this year’s event at the San Antonio A&M Club will take place April 22nd. April 21st is Easter Sunday.
National recognition of Muster hearkens back to April 21, 1942 and the Second World War when a roll call of the twenty-seven Aggies serving in the Philippines on the small island of Corregidor was held. All would either be killed or captured by Japanese forces, but their solidarity in the face of overwhelming odds heartened the nation’s will to persevere.
On April 21, 1946 the memory of those twenty-seven Aggies was honored in a ceremony on Corregador at the Malinta Tunnel, and the tradition of remembrance has continued ever since. Aggies gather together wherever they are in the world, read aloud the names of the departed, and answer on their behalf… “Here.”
It is the solemnity of making that declaration that leads to me to my final thought before my book comes out. Tarnished Brass is a work of fiction but the war and many of the characters included in the novella are real. At the end I pay tribute to two of those individuals:
Lieutenant Colonel, James M. Basile, U.S. Air Force, served as the Deputy Commander, U.S. MilGroup, San Salvador during the years covered in the book. More importantly, he was my friend who I both admired and loved as a brother-in-arms. He was killed in a helicopter crash July 16, 1987 at age 43.
I also had the honor of serving under General John R. Galvin, who was the Commander, USSOUTHCOM during the three years that I was assigned to the J3. He passed away after a distinguished career September 25, 2015 at age 86.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency within our society to equate heroes with sports figures, celebrities, wealth and power. When asked, the average person will name their favorite football, baseball or basketball player as their hero. Those not into sports might name a famous pop icon, television or movie star. However, though fame and fortune may keep these individuals in the public spotlight, their notoriety does not constitute heroism and their designation as heroes does a disservice to those who have given their all in service to others.
Keep this in mind the next time you’re asked the question, “Who Are Your Heroes?”