by Robert Arvay, Contributing Writer
I served 20 years in the United States armed forces. I take pride in that, but just for the record, I was never in combat, never got shot at, and never received any medals. I never rose to the high ranks, and deservedly so.
There are those who say that simply by wearing the uniform, by being available at every moment for combat, I served. I am uncomfortable with that, especially when I meet veterans who did get shot at, many of whom got wounded, some with life-changing consequences. They are the heroes, and even they are humble enough to say things like, “The real heroes are the ones who never came back.” Oceans of white crosses grimly testify to that sentiment.
I am not humble, just honest. For me, to claim even the tiniest bit of status as a combat veteran would be like stealing blood from the wounds of those who deserve our praise. To do so would, I am sure, bring down on my head a supernatural punishment, of which I am afraid.
In a back-handed way, it is a testament to those who did serve that there are those people who falsely claim their honor. People do not steal that which is of no value. They steal what someone else earned, and the status of true hero is one that is earned at a fearful price.
The cost is not always obvious. Military people suffer loss of personal freedoms, indignities, and uncertainties that are difficult to comprehend, especially for those who reap the rewards of a free and prosperous society without ever having muddied their faces in a freezing, rain-filled foxhole.
As the son of a World War II combat veteran (my father was in the 36th Infantry Division), I have a faint inkling of what those sacrifices are. I would never dare to pretend to have faced death in those circumstances.
As a final thought, I recognize that there are many, genuinely heroic Americans who never served in the armed forces. Many of them labor in anonymity, at low wage jobs, or even at unpaid volunteer services, or perhaps in other ways that we do not imagine. Heroism is on the inside. If you do not have it there, you do not have it.
You can, however, despite your circumstances, find ways to be a real hero. Even a famous celebrity can do so in ways other than by lying about it.