Thank your heroes while you have the chance - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Thank your heroes while you have the chance

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Posted: Friday, March 6, 2009 7:11 pm | Updated: 3:11 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Kevin Westberg and Curtis Cardine: His absence was palatable. “Where’s John?” “Have you seen John?” Questions like this echoed through a south Gilbert fitness center throughout the month of January.

His absence was palatable. “Where’s John?” “Have you seen John?” Questions like this echoed through a south Gilbert fitness center throughout the month of January.

Finally as the month ended, another regular member in the 60-plus crowd approached and passed on the message we had all dreaded. John Clancy had passed several weeks earlier.

We had lost our hero.

Attaining hero status in a weight room normally entails an ability to lift impressive weights or bulging biceps. John had neither.

When we first met John, we saw an elderly man with an oxygen tank, tubes dangling from his nose. He moved in a youthful and determined manner from machine to machine that was surprising to us all. He was unassuming.

We were all drawn to John, initially out of curiosity. “Who is this old guy and why is he pushing himself so hard?”

For reasons unknown we felt compelled to speak to this “geezer.” Unlike most first conversations, one could immediately detect an aura of sincere kindness and genuine interest from John. He was authentically concerned about the well being of anybody who took the time to talk to him. John always ended a conversation with a heartfelt goodbye and said, “God Bless and be safe.”

Those who listened to John quickly discovered a source of inspiration, beyond the scope of what most measured as relevant in the weight room and also in life.

One by one, we gradually extracted details of John’s past life as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, 505th Paratroop-Infantry Regiment. John served his country as a medic in this elite unit during World War II. He participated in every jump in all four major campaigns.

Bit by bit, we would relay pieces of intelligence we had gathered about John and marveled at this hero in our midst. Mixed in with conversations about the mundane day to day accomplishments achieved by gym rats, were the awe-inspiring details of John’s first-person accounts of events, which could normally only be read about.

More importantly for the married guys, embedded in John’s conversation were his deep love for his (departed) wife of 56-plus years and his family.

Through conversation alone, John impacted our lives in deep and profound ways. One local police officer and accomplished triathlete summed up John’s impact on all of us when he said, “I really regret not having the chance to tell him that he was my hero.”

Our hero’s words will be repeated in this final farewell, “Goodbye and God bless you, John.”

Kevin Westberg is a detective with an East Valley police agency. Curtis Cardine is a retired school district superintendent from New Hampshire and a former Olympic weight lifter.

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