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Boers: In Celebration Of The True American Heroes

By Terry Boers-

(CBS) I don't suppose this Veterans Day on Tuesday will feel much different than any of the others have to the vast majority of Americans.

Perhaps they'll hear of a ceremony here or a fallen soldier being honored there, and we will no doubt get more words and thoughts from President Obama, who's already noted that "we can't ever quit'' on those who've so gallantly served our country.

Good advice. This has already been quite an ugly century, given the fact we've been at war in two faraway lands since the devastation of 9/11, and it certainly would seem that even though many of our troops have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, nothing in either country's future appears certain despite all the concerted effort and the American lives that have either been lost or dramatically altered.

But there's a blip here.

You see, I have to believe that saying millions of us Baby Boomers have become war weary wouldn't be much of a stretch. Remember, we go all the way back to the tumultuous days of the useless war in Vietnam. Back then, I was one of the hundreds of thousands of college students who loudly protested against that war at campuses across the country.

And no, I wasn't arrested, detained or even told to get lost. It should also be noted that the few protests I participated in were peaceful, although it can't be denied that feelings ran high on both sides.

History also suggests that we were on the right side of the argument.

But please understand that I never felt anger toward those who fought in those awful jungles. That Vietnam vets were treated so shabbily upon their return bothers me to this very day. How they became the bad guys to so many stupid people defies logic.

Besides, I know what it felt like to lose a neighbor. His name was Robert Keene. He was three years older than me and had grown up in a Steger house that I saw practically every day of my life. To be precise, the house his parents owned faced the park where we played baseball every day in the summer, football in the fall and basketball until the weather chased us indoors.

A corporal in the Army, Keene was killed during a firefight in the city of Quang Tin on Aug. 25, 1968, just after I had graduated from Bloom High School.

Funerals back then weren't quite the big deal they are now when it comes to the military. I can't say I remember much of anything other than an undeniable sadness that seemed to hang over everybody and everything for a goodly amount of time.

I also recall how upset my dad was from start to finish once the news became public.

Now mind you, he was hardly given to emotional outbursts of any kind. If anything, he kept his feelings bottled up inside, the only exceptions being when I either crashed my car or had the Steger police chief stop over for a gabfest that was always pure gibberish.

But not this time. I learned that warm day in late August that once a soldier, always a soldier.

When I saw him that day we learned of the news, he immediately wanted to know how well I'd known Bob. I told him just a little bit, that the age difference didn't leave us with all that much in common, especially when it came to friends. I did note that when I had occasionally run across Bob, he always seemed like a really good guy, although I kind of remember him acting much older than his chronological age.

My dad pondered this for a brief moment.

"I'm sorry you didn't know him better,'' he said. "The kid was an American hero.''

I could see that my dad's eyes were welling up with tears, but he quickly turned away. The conversation was over, and he had no interest in letting me see him cry.

I didn't think too much of that then, but he was right. No matter the justness of the war, Bob had paid the ultimate sacrifice, and tears were the proper reaction.

Only in the ensuing years have I realized how much I screwed up that long-ago day. It might have been the only legitimate chance I'd ever had of finding out about my father's days as a combat infantryman in World War II, most of them in Italy. That subject was always taboo.

I was brought back to all of these memories while reading a terrific story by Lisa Black that ran on the front page of Saturday's Chicago Tribune. It involved both the logistics and the craziness of getting 92 World War II veterans on a plane to Washington D.C. to view our nation's war memorials.

The organization is called Honor Flight Chicago, and the work they do is simply extraordinary. Just check out the picture on Page 2 of the Tribune, and you'll see five veterans in their wheelchairs being pushed through the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.

Black points out in the piece that many of the veterans contacted aren't interested in taking any of the trips because of their age or medical concerns.

Makes sense. I would assume most of vets from The Greatest Generation would be in their 90s, not exactly prime traveling time.

Had my dad lived, he would be have turned 96 this year, in the same ballpark as so many of the veterans who've been escorted by the Honor Flight people here and there.

Hard to say how he would have reacted to any of this attention. He probably would have chosen to stay home, but it doesn't matter.

I was always proud of who my dad was. And yes, I know a true American hero when I see one.

A longtime sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, Terry Boers now co-hosts The Boers and Bernstein Show, which can be heard Monday-Friday from 1p.m.-6p.m. on 670 The Score.

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