by Janis Patterson
As writers, we all interact with heroes every day, whatever genre we write. Be they shirtless cowboys with rippling abs or smart, street-wise detectives or canny FBI agents or sweet ditzy career women dusted with flour or bits of yarn. Books need heroes.
So does real life. As you probably know, earlier this month The Husband and I went to the NRA convention in Atlanta, and it was a simply splendid experience. And we did meet real life heroes. All kept their shirts on, and there was no sign of flour or bits of yarn, but they were indubitably heroes.
We got to hear Oliver North give a moving invocation at the Hank Williams, Jr. concert, and hear Lee Greenwood sing “I’m Proud to Be an American” live. Maybe Greenwood isn’t a real life hero – I don’t know – but his song is a paean to hero-dom.
On a more personal level, I got to speak for a far-too-short sliver of time with Sheriff David Clarke, who is a lovely and gracious man. I spent almost a quarter of an hour (waiting for The Husband to show up from some mysterious wandering) with two simply lovely men who were on Chris Kyle’s sniper team. (I’m sure there is a more militarily-correct term than team, but I don’t know it.) Both of them were friendly and gracious and very funny. Until our talk turned to Chris Kyle; then all three of us became somber, as we should have. We Americans lost a symbol; they lost a friend.
There were WWII and Korea and Viet Nam and Middle East veterans there; some wore their medals and embroidered hats proclaiming their affiliations, but some didn’t and I discovered their histories while simply chatting with them. (Yes, The Husband is right when he says I talk to EVERYBODY.) Some of these gentlemen were in scooters and some walked proudly on their own. Some had canes and some were in wheelchairs propelled by younger people, all of whom looked proud of their job.
These veterans were once young men, some scarcely older than children, who marched off into hell to protect our country and our way of life… and their loved ones. To a one they counted themselves lucky. After all, they came back to enjoy the life they had sacrificed so much to protect, while so many of their comrades did not.
These heroes did not need ‘safe spaces’ or riot like spoilt brats because things haven’t gone the way they thought things should or demand that the world be changed to suit their whims. They did what they had to do and then came home to build lives and fortunes both big and small and enjoy what they had earned.
Talking with them was a privilege, and one I shall remember forever.
The hero who most remains in my mind, however, is Norris Jernigan. A slightly built man, he served with the US Army Air Corps, 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Composite Group. He was an Intelligence Specialist whose function was to prepare information for bombing missions – maps, aerial photographs, etc – that the officers would use in the flight crew briefings. He’s one of the few men left (I think 2? Maybe 3?) who worked on the Enola Gay missions. A true hero.
Mr. Jernigan is quiet and soft spoken; he wrote a book and was answering questions about his service, but reservedly, without boasting or self-aggrandizement. I was honored to stand in the presence of a man whose skill and ability helped end WWII quickly instead of having it drag on and on with a horrendous loss of American lives.
The Husband (an amateur military historian) and I stayed in Mr. Jernigan’s booth for a while as they discussed various aspects of the war. Mr. Jernigan may be elderly now, but his courage has not wavered – when time came for us to leave, he reached over and kissed me… with The Husband not three feet away! It was a most pleasurable kiss, too.
Kissed by a genuine hero – that’s nice.