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I had the privilege and honor to escort the principal of Biloxi High School to the annual Air Force Junior ROTC Dining Out and Military Ball. It was a gala affair. The ladies were resplendent in their fancy gowns and jewels. The adult men, who were active or retired military, wore their dress uniforms with ribbons and medals attesting to their accomplishments. Quite a few attendees (I was the only World War II veteran) thanked me for my service to our country and many stated that I was truly a hero.

A hero. What really makes a person one? To find an answer I looked back at my own life and experiences…

When I was still in high school I met a young lady and I knew then that someday we would be together. We lost physical contact after I graduated, although I always remembered her birthdays and special times. We reconnected when World War II began, and she agreed to be my wife. Our plans were delayed by the war and short training. I was sent overseas to the remote Aleutian Islands. She left her secretary position to join the industrial complex that provided the materials so vital in equipping our war machine. She also performed volunteer work with the USO in support of our troops who would soon be joining the forces overseas. She was faithful in sending letters and care packages, knowing instinctively their importance to the soldiers far from home and loved ones.

When the war was over and I returned home, we were married, She had to do most of the organizing for this momentous event, as I was still in the service and not available all the time. Together, though, we decided that we would pursue a military career, signaling the beginning of more than 30 years of extensive travel throughout the United States and many foreign countries. We soon became a family with three children and because of my duties she was an active volunteer in the children’s academic, social and sports activities, as well as a hospital volunteer (“gray lady”). She found time — how, I don’t know — to become an above average bowler and a member of a softball team. With three young children in tow, she singlehandedly and uncomplainingly kept the home fires burning for a year when I was sent to Greenland, having also done so many other times when I was sent on temporary duty elsewhere.

War was upon us again, and I was sent to Vietnam, leaving her once more along with the three children. Our son joined the Army, and she arranged to attend his graduation from pilot training, traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast with two teenage girls. She stoically accepted that her son would also be going to Vietnam, ultimately resulting in the two males in her family absent to fight a war far away and during the same year. It was she who received the telegram from the War Department stating that her son had been shot down and wounded while piloting his air rescue helicopter. And it was she who again kept our lives together until the family was reunited once again.

Upon my return from Vietnam, I was assigned to Mississippi. She unselfishly made the decision to stay in California temporarily so that our oldest daughter could graduate with her classmates and our youngest child could finish her freshman year. Making another new home, she once again settled us in graciously and competently.

Now that our travels are over and our children are successful in their chosen careers, I reminisce and I know, without any doubt, who in my life is truly the hero.

FRANCIS HERBERT

Ayer