Over the past few weeks, I've found myself thinking more and more about our country, its founders, and other brave men and women who have sacrificed so much to defend and protect our country, preserving its founding ideals.
These are our nation's heroes.
I have recently written two books about heroes: RAHBAH (Read a Hero, Be a Hero) and CLASP (Character Education Language Arts Supplement for PACE). Creating these books was delightful, but the toughest part, by far, was deciding which heroes to include. Through the selection process, I was drawn time and again to people who served in the military---perhaps in part because I've been married to a Navy man for the past 35 years!
To celebrate Veteran's Day this month, I thought it would be appropriate to remember some of our veterans and the virtuous examples they continue to provide for us and for our children. These people are true heroes whose lives serve as an inspiration to us all.
Samuel Whittemore is famous for being the oldest person to fight in the American Revolution.
A Massachusetts farmer by trade, Whittemore took part in the French and Indian Wars and, at age 67, fought in the Great Lakes region against the American Indians.
In 1775, when he was 80 years old, he came to the defense of his country once again. One day, when Whittemore saw the British marching through his town, he stopped doing his chores, hid behind a stone wall, and fired at several British soldiers, killing three of them. The British retaliated by shooting and bayonetting him, leaving him for dead in a field. Amazingly, he survived his injuries, spending the rest of his life disfigured and crippled.
Whittemore lived 18 more years, dying at the age of 98 but always proclaiming that he was proud to do his part in securing the independence of his beloved America. For his loyalty to his country, Samuel Whittemore was declared an official state hero in Massachusetts in 2005.
Theodore Roosevelt was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and the youngest man ever to become President of the United States. During the war in Cuba, Roosevelt formed the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, called the “Rough Riders,” a group that became famous after their victory at the decisive Battle of San Juan Hill. For his fearless leadership in this battle, Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2001.
Aside from his courageous military feats, Theodore Roosevelt is also known for his many accomplishments as our 26th president: the building of the Panama Canal, the creation of the U.S. Forest Service & National Parks, and his Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. Through hard work and determination, Theodore Roosevelt became one of the most influential men in the history of our country.
Louis Zamperini is known to many people today from the movie about his life, Unbroken. A former Olympic competitor/runner, Zamperini served in the US Army Air Corps as a bombardier during World War II. In 1943, Louis’ airplane crash-landed in the ocean 850 miles south of Hawaii.
After 47 days in the water, Louis and another survivor washed up on the Marshall Islands where they were captured by Japanese forces and became prisoners of war. Zamperini spent the next 2 years as a POW in several camps, during which he was beaten, humiliated, and tortured. In one camp, he was severely tortured by a notorious prison guard nicknamed “The Bird.” This guard’s methods were so cruel that he was on the list of the 40 most-wanted criminals in Japan.
Despite this inhumane treatment, Zamperini never gave in to despair and was known to be an inspiration to the other prisoners, keeping up morale by reciting his mother’s Italian recipes. After the war, he returned to his family (who had been told that he was killed in action) and led a peaceful life.
In 1998, Zamperini had an opportunity to return to Japan and he visited the prison where many of his Japanese guards were imprisoned. Louis forgave them and, although unable to see “The Bird” in person, wrote the guard a letter, forgiving him as well. Zamperini earned many medals, including the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Elizabeth Laird is an unusual veteran hero in that she never saw battle or suffered the deprivations of war. She is, nonetheless, a hero to many in the military for her inspirational compassion and national loyalty.
Laird joined the auxiliary branch of the Air Force in 1949, serving for two years before working for the Department of Defense as a computer programmer. After retiring from civil service, Elizabeth moved to a town near the Fort Hood Army Base in Texas.
While volunteering with the Salvation Army in 2003, she started greeting soldiers on their way to and from Iraq during Desert Storm. Laird felt a patriotic duty to show her appreciation to them for the sacrifices they were making for their country.
Waiting for the soldiers to depart or arrive at the Fort Hood Airfield, Elizabeth started giving them hugs. Day and night, weekday and weekend, in every kind of weather, the “Hug Lady” could be seen at the airport, offering prayer cards, comfort, and hugs to the soldiers. It is estimated that from 2003-2015, Elizabeth Laird wrapped her arms around more than 500,000 soldiers, touching their lives forever.
In 2015, when Laird lay dying of cancer in a hospital in Texas, these same soldiers came from all over the country to return the embrace and pay their respects. Since her death, a room at the Fort Hood Airport has been named in her honor.