Tribute to an aging hero.

Don - Fallston, Maryland
Entered on February 9, 2009
Age Group: 65+
Themes: family, gratitude, war
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

Tribute to an Aging Hero

This I believe—my father was an unassuming, authentic American hero.

Captain W.C. “Chuck” Forester, USAF retired, slowly shuffled across the massive granite ellipse of the America’s newest war memorial, dedicated to the men and women of the “Greatest Generation”. Laid out in a 360o panorama, the monument is simultaneously breath-taking and awe-inspiring. I watched with silent admiration as the stooped-shouldered, 87-year-old octogenarian paused in front of the “fountain of stars” commemorating the 400,000 American dead. Framed by the Lincoln Memorial at the other end of the reflection pool, the visual symbolism caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand erect. From the quiet solemnity of the fountain, the aging pilot made his way slowly and deliberately through the throngs of people to the upper level of the memorial that contains the granite spires commemorating each of the states and territories that fueled the fires of war, and ultimately helped to sow the seeds of peace, more than a half century ago. I followed as his labored steps delivered him to the base of the Michigan monument. He paused in quiet contemplation after reading the caption on a picture temporarily affixed to the stone by a proud veteran or a surviving loved one.

By happy coincidence, Michigan, Captain Forester’s birth state, is adjacent to Texas, his adopted home state. I could only imagine the thoughts that were going through his mind—the mind of a decorated veteran of more than 50 bombing missions, recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor during combat and the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters. I couldn’t help but wonder if he saw the irony in being escorted to this hallowed memorial by a son who’s only military service had been an undistinguished, two-year stint in the Texas Tech Air Force ROTC—a modest commitment that yielded a critical deferment from the killing fields of Viet Nam.

The next day my dad returned with friends and colleagues of the 485th Bomb Group of the 15th Air Force and taped an 8×10 photo of his ill-fated B-24 crew, “Hell From Heaven” to the stone wall. The entire crew was killed or captured when the venerable bomber received a direct hit in the bomb bay while on a mission over Italy—it was the only flight that the young Michigan aviator ever missed!

It took almost 60 years for America to honor her debt to the men and women who served with focused dedication and endless sacrifice during World War II. I don’t question why it took so long—I thank providence that my dad lived long enough to see it, and that he allowed me to share the moment with him!