Looking back over the years, I see so clearly how my oldest son would someday grow up to become a soldier.
At 3 years old, he was living and breathing Ninja Turtles. Not a day would pass in his young life where epic battles were not being formulated, planned and executed in his mind. The good guys versus the bad guys was all that mattered and of course, the good guys would always win. "Cowabunga!" was a word that soon found its way into our entire family’s vocabulary.
I remember vividly trying to explain that the Ninja Turtles were human-like turtles who lived in the sewers of New York City. My father, who served in World War II, slowly shook his head and said, “That boy needs to know where real heroes come from.” My son, overhearing, excitedly asked: “Where do heroes come from, Grandpa?”
It wasn’t long after that conversation, that my dad and my son had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together. They would watch black and white war movies together and spent time looking at old photographs. It was contagious; I had to join in. Dad told me stories about his life I never heard before. Stories of hardship, stories of what it was like to be on a ship at sea, in a war, headed to strange lands, in the early 40s. We were mesmerized.
At 6 years old, my son moved on to Army men and started organizing his troops on a daily basis, slowly moving one army or the other ever closer to the point of no return and practicing the sounds of battle in the backseat as we drove from place to place.
At 9, he started to get creative and started painting his armies. Missing my bottle of nail polish I soon discovered it had been used for more interesting purposes: to don the battle uniforms of two distinct yet similar armies, on his bedroom floor.
When he was 13, Sept. 11, 2001 came crashing down around us. Life stood still. Shock, fear, anger, sorrow. My son experienced a deep and moving reaction to the terrorist attacks, just as we all did. But, he vowed someday, he would make a difference - that he would be one of the good guys hunting down the bad guys.
At 18, he signed up with the Army and headed to boot camp. I was scared to death. What would happen? Would he be safe? Would I see him again? Why did he have to go in a time of war? Of course I was very proud of him; the entire family was. There is nothing like the feeling of having your child in a war zone. It’s like having your heart rip open your chest, leap out and start running away.
My son is still in the Army although no longer in Iraq. I can’t be thankful enough. But it’s hard not to worry until he comes home again. Our family is no stranger to war; we’ve served in almost every war since the Revolution. But that doesn’t make it any easier. A few good men never made it back; my father-in-law never made it home.
I hope those past heroes in my family are proud of the heroes my children have and will become. The fearless oldest, currently serving, the middle daughter, with amazing talent, and the musical youngest, with a birthday on Sept. 11. Each of my children are intelligent, unique, brave, talented, patriotic and FREE.
I yearn for the day when there will be no war, no heartache, no loss -- when we can resolve issues without weapons, and listen with our hearts as well as our heads. I pray that every single man and woman serving in the military makes it home safe and sound.
But until that happens, I think we all know where the heroes come from.